An Affordable Duplex That’s Good for Dogs and Drums
It’s not easy to find an affordable rental when you’re a drummer. One Manhattanite tried some unorthodox tactics and found a gem.,
On occasion, New Yorkers frustrated by all the traditional channels of finding an apartment decide to appeal directly to their neighbors.
This fall, fliers showing a fluffy white Bichon Frise and a drum set appeared around the Upper West Side: “Hello! My name is Sacha! I’m three years old, I bring joy to the humans everywhere I go, and I’m seeking an apartment here on the Upper West Side, for me and my one human friend!”
Sacha’s human friend, Daniel Podolsky, 28, a research engineer at the New York Structural Biology Center in West Harlem, said he posted the fliers after he had exhausted all other options.
“I tried StreetEasy, Craigslist, all the Facebook groups: Columbia Housing, Gypsy Housing, Gypsy Housing NYC, Ghostlight Housing, N.Y.U. Housing, Upper West Side Housing. All the different brokerage websites, Zillow, the ‘AI-powered’ ones that text you,” said Mr. Podolsky, who was trying to escape a dark and tiny studio apartment on the Upper West Side.
“It was just so small and it had two windows — one looked at a wall and the other one only got good sun for an hour or two a day,” he said. “And then the pandemic started and I couldn’t really go anywhere.” The apartment was also prepandemic priced at $2,200 a month.
With Manhattan rents plummeting, he thought he could improve his situation when his lease came up for renewal last July. But his criteria weren’t easy to meet: He was hoping to find an apartment with at least 700 square feet and good natural light for no more than $1,800 a month. And it had to be dog- and drum-friendly.
“I was pretty picky,” he admitted.
Mr. Podolsky, an avid drummer, had disassembled his drum set when he moved into the studio. There wasn’t even space for a normal bed in the apartment — he bought and installed a secondhand Murphy bed — let alone a three-piece drum kit. But with the pandemic keeping him cooped up, being able to drum at home was a top priority.
He figured his best bet was to rent a ground-floor or top-floor duplex, with the extra floor serving as a buffer between his drums and the rest of the building, “spatially insulated from the neighbors.” Of course, this was hardly foolproof: At his previous apartment, in Williamsburg, it wasn’t his landlord, who lived downstairs, but the residents of the neighboring building who minded his drumming.
When the neighbors complained, the landlord would exhort him to drum more quietly, thumping on the ceiling with a broom. “I’d get that feedback often,” Mr. Podolsky said.
But even with pandemic rent decreases, he had trouble finding many Upper West Side duplexes for less than $2,000 a month.
When it came time to renew his lease last summer, Mr. Podolsky negotiated the rent down to $1,800 a month and got his landlord to add a clause allowing him to break the lease in 30 days if he could find another tenant, and 60 days if he couldn’t.
The rent reduction made the situation more tolerable, but by October, the prospect of spending the winter confined in his dark, cramped studio pushed him to try something new. Hence, the fliers.
Did they actually work?
“I got five to 10 nice replies,” Mr. Podolsky said. “The dog was the bait and the drums were the hook. But I was looking for something pretty specific. And I think it rained a few days after I put them up.”
$3,025 | Upper West Side
Daniel Podolsky, 28
Occupation: Mr. Podolsky is a research engineer at the New York Structural Biology Center.
The hunt for a home: “I spent most of 2020 looking for an apartment. I was searching after work every night and sometimes on my lunch break. As soon as I was done, this whole memory — I was like ‘straight to trash.’ It was an awful experience.”
Work breaks: “I got a new drum set when I moved in here. I have a programming job where I think about math all day so it’s nice that when I get bored or need a minute I can go play drums.”
His music: “Everything from rock to electronic to jazz to hip-hop. Music you can groove to. Anything with a good rhythm.”
In the end, he found his new apartment in a traditional way: responding to a Craigslist ad.
It was an Upper West Side duplex at the top of an older prewar walk-up building, with two bedrooms, a third room that lacks a door and is off the top-floor bedroom, plus two bathrooms, two terraces and two skylights.
Best of all, it was located next to an active construction site, which meant he wouldn’t be the noisiest thing in the area.
The rent, at $3,025, is much higher than he had been looking to pay, but is also significantly less than the close to $4,000 the landlord had been charging before the pandemic. The construction site likely played a role as well. Mr. Podolsky rationalized that it would be even less than his studio apartment rent if he found a roommate to share the cost.
He moved in mid-December. His drums — he bought a larger, four-piece set — went in the open room that is not quite a third bedroom, So far, there haven’t been any complaints.
“It’s not been a problem,” he said. “Even when I’ve jammed with other people, no one has knocked.
The apartment has everything his old one didn’t: plenty of space and light. At this time of year, his bedroom, which is also his office, gets full sun all day. He has been accumulating houseplants to take advantage of it.
“Living in the city, you can feel very disconnected from nature,” Mr. Podolsky said. “This almost feels like a little house on top of the building. The patio is like having a backyard. I lay in bed and sometimes I can see the moon. When it rains, the skylight is like a drum of its own. It’s particularly loud and I like it.”
He’s still looking for a roommate. “I haven’t been looking very hard, to be honest,” he said. “But I do need to find one so I can afford the apartment. I’d like to find a roommate who shares my interests, to an extent: math, programming, music.”
“And definitely tolerant of drums,” he added. “That is a must.”