APT: Washington Heights

The last day in the old apartment.

So…that’s it, then. This weekend we moved the last of the furniture, odds and ends, and forgotten cabinet contents out of the Washington Heights apartment that we’ve kept for the past two years. While Evan was making trips back and forth to the house in Newburgh and the new apartment in Brooklyn, I was patching, filling, sanding, painting, and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning for two solid days and nights.

Despite the fact that no one else has ever paid me the same consideration, I believe in leaving rental apartments in nice condition and immaculately clean for the next resident. I don’t understand why it’s not standard for landlords to hire cleaning services to tend to apartments between tenants, but (at least in my experience in New York) that’s definitely not the norm. The things I’ve had to clean out of refrigerators when moving into new apartments…ugh. I just like to make it nice as possible for the next person, and I always leave the apartment in better working order than I found it in.

Painting over the black kitchen wall and converting the “office” back into a closet felt sad. We had hoped to assign our lease to a couple who actually wanted to keep the black paint, the fauxdenza, and all of our other modifications, but that didn’t work out as planned, so it all had to go. I don’t like the feeling of leaving an apartment and not knowing what’s going to happen to it. I know that might sound a little silly since people do that all the time, but I was really attached to this place. It’s a great apartment in a great building with GREAT neighbors. I hope someone nice moves in. I also hope nobody paints over all of the doorknobs and hardware that I spent so many hours stripping.

I started crying when we were ready to walk out the door for the last time. Good old 6F in Washington Heights is the complete opposite of the new place in Brooklyn. I’m comfortable in these old, concrete-walled apartments with paint-globbed moldings and cracked plaster and mismatched bathroom tiles. And I’m a little uncomfortable in gut-renovated white boxes with 90° corners and dishwashers and fancy amenities. I know how to live in old spaces, but I’m not sure how to live in new ones. It’s going to be a weird adjustment.

I’ll miss this place. Goodbye, Bennett Avenue.

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  • Reply Adam March 19, 2012 at 11:23 am

    The new tenants are lucky to get such a pristine and well cared for apartment! I can;t wait to see pics of the new place!

  • Reply TEM March 19, 2012 at 11:41 am

    I’m just about to move out of a great little apartment that I’ve been in for two years also! I know there are going to be tears once I’m done moving and cleaning and ready to hand over the keys. I just hope the new tenants appreciate the place as much as I have!
    Luckily, the place I’m moving to is another quirky little vintage apartment, but the move is still going to be so very melancholy!
    Best of luck in the new place!

  • Reply Jenn March 19, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Never having moved into a cleaned rental, but always leaving a very clean rental for the next tenant, I really appreciate what you’ve done to make 6F ready for the next person. Our last rental, in Vancouver, was so incredibly dirty – I begged the landlord to have it cleaned before our family of 4 moved in. When we arrived to move in, the place was still totally dirty (it wasn’t just dirty…that I could deal with, it was moldy/mildewy/thick with dirt). It was terribly disappointing – when did it become the standard that places aren’t cleaned and emptied when vacated?
    Enjoy your new place, can’t wait to see photos showing the transformation you bring to your home.

  • Reply Maggie March 19, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Interesting…in Seattle it’s been my experience the landlord always hires a cleaning service if you don’t leave your apartment in sparkling shape…and of course they will take that cost out of your deposit! I’ve also been charged a “disposal” fee for leaving something behind. Good motivation to spend a couple days scrubbing.

    I would love to move into a place with restored hardware like that, though if you didn’t leave a note I might assume all the units had it! Maybe the next tenant will be a reader. 🙂

    • Anna @ D16 March 19, 2012 at 12:27 pm

      I’m guessing the cleanliness level of apartments is inversely proportional to the demand for housing in a given area. Demand in NYC is very high, and landlords really don’t have to do much to get an apartment in “rentable” condition. I’ve rented apartments with refrigerators full of spoiled food, broken windows, piles of garbage…you name it. They’re DEFINITELY not hiring cleaning services!

    • Bright March 19, 2012 at 2:40 pm

      In Portland, too. I’m actually absolutely dreading moving out because I have zero desire to do a deep clean or forfeit my deposit.

  • Reply Natasha @ The Blackbird Sings March 19, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    I wish you a lot of happiness in the new apartment, and I think it’s so kind of you to leave the old one in such a great condition. You’re an inspiration and I really enjoy reading your blog!

  • Reply sherry March 19, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    So true about cleaning, but I think it’s a reflection more of the people who live in those apartments than any sort of courtesy. I would be mortified to leave anything dirty behind for someone else to clean, but I know people who probably wouldn’t even think to wipe down the cupboards for crumbs or move out the oven/fridge for sweeping/mopping because they don’t do it for themselves. And landlords, finding one who is interested in more than taking your money is like finding a unicorn in my experience.

    Whoever the new tenants are will appreciate you cared about the place so much. We never knew the people who sold us our house, but they left it pristine with burlap bags for the bushes, notes about the garden ect. I helped us feel at home to know that someone loved the place as much as we thought we would. I think that’s the best we can do for places we care about, is pass them on in better condition than they were before we entered. You most certainly have done that.

  • Reply jeannette March 19, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    i feel the same way about leaving places and things in better shape than when i got them.

  • Reply LAurel March 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Good luck! I hope the transition goes smoothly. It’s nice you’ll have the images from your blog to look back on when you want to remember the old apartment!

  • Reply heather March 19, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Sounds like a ton of work – on top of the work of just moving! You are truly a nice person to do so much when it’s not expected. I cry every time I leave an old space even though I know I’m going to a new place that’s better for me. You will love the new apartment too in time and find a way to make it yours. 🙂

  • Reply Paule March 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    Funny, I lived in an old appartment from 1905, on a Bennett Avenue, here in Montreal. For a year. I loved the place, but I had to move for sad reasons, so i’m better off now!

  • Reply jennifer March 19, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    i empathize with you. enjoy settling in to your new place!

  • Reply bf March 19, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    I know how you feel. I absolutely love old buildings, and would love to restore an old house one day. two years ago, we moved into a building that had been built in the 80’s. at first I was not sure about it. but it had some amazing things to offer— appliances that work really well (the place gets warm so fast and stays warm!), and really solid floors and walls – I can barely hear my neighbors. the apartment is lacking in old charm, but it does have gigantic windows (wall-to wall, floor to ceiling) so that helps make up for the boring parts.

    I absolutely adore the charm of old apartments, but I don’t think I could ever live in one again. in my experience, almost all of them had loud booming footsteps coming from neighbor’s hardwood floors, low water pressure, shared washers and dryers that barely worked in scary basements, and crazy amounts of dust / mold that no matter how much I cleaned, could barely be kept at bay.

    you are an amazing decorator. if I could make my new construction apartment look somewhat mid-century modern, then I’m sure you will be able to figure out how to make yours look absolutely stunning!

  • Reply Tiffanie March 19, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Wow, I have never heard of the landlord not returning an apartment to at least decent conditions. Does that mean you can move out (not that I would) and not clean and still get your deposit back, because they don’t feel the need to clean either way?

    In the past when we have looked for a new place, it’s the cabinets that always are the first deterrent. Why everyone uses colonial style crap cabinets here in S.F. I will never know. Our kitchen is very visible from much of our living space, and I am so thankful we have simple slab doors with no hardware.

    We have, I kid you not, a 14′ long black wall in our place. We’re on a sixteen year old lease (we’ve been here ten of those years), and the landlord has not set foot in here for the entire sixteen years. Because of that, we have sort of done what we wanted, and will happily forfeit our deposit for repainting and hole patching, etc. I was following your crappy moving/painting weekend on twitter, sorry it was such a mess and glad you got through it. I am sure you can make the new place your own, but I do know what you mean about the modern spaces, especially if not particularly well designed.

    • Anna @ D16 March 19, 2012 at 4:01 pm

      Well, New York is pretty weird when it comes to the whole rental market. I’m not saying that you wouldn’t lose your deposit if you left the place a huge mess, but I can tell you that in general, the standard for “clean” is very low. I’ve always more or less done what I want in my apartments in terms of paint, renovations, etc. (Daniel from Manhattan Nest and I have very similar attitudes about this kind of thing), but I’ve always lived in kind of run-down, pre-war apartments that have virtually absentee landlords.

      That’s definitely NOT the case in every situation, but it’s not uncommon. New York is unique when it comes to renting, though!

    • Daniel @ Manhattan Nest March 20, 2012 at 11:49 am

      For reference, my lease actually states that the apartment should be left in broom-clean (or some variation of that phrasing…) condition when I move. So basically dust and grime and caked on crap is a-okay, I guess, as long as I’ve swept the place?

      The scary thing is that my apartment was SO gross that the landlords actually DID hire a cleaning service (sooooo not like them) to come in for a day. They worked their asses off, but the apartment was just too far gone to be fixed in a day. The amount of grime I’ve seen (and, if you can believe it, still stumble upon every now and again, somehow) in this place is enough to keep you up at night.

      If whoever moves into good old 6F has any renting experience in New York at all, I’m sure they’ll be wildly appreciative of your work. You really made that place shine, Anna, and I’m sure you’ll do the same in DUMBO.

  • Reply Jen March 19, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    I give you so much credit for actually having the consideration to clean and prep your place. I’m in the process of moving up in Inwood and aside from the whole security deposit, I think it’s just the right thing to do. I’ve been in my current place for 8 years, and in that time we’ve never asked our landlord to do anything, not even paint as they’re required to by law. So the fact that they’re going to have to do work anyway for the next tenant has me feeling a bit lazy. Though I envision a lot of kitchen scrubbing and nail hole patching in my future just because I’ll feel guilty otherwise.

    Luckily my new place is under renovation, so I think it’ll actually be in decent shape by the time I move in. Or at least I hope that’s the case.

  • Reply Lizzie March 19, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    It shows a lot of character on your part that you’re leaving it in such good condition, I’ve lived in a couple rental places and have experienced those “left behinds” first hand myself… disgusting. Who ever does end up with that apartment will be very lucky! I especially love the shiny, hardwood floors.

  • Reply Another Jen March 19, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    Good on you for cleaning so thoroughly. I always do the same because it’s the right thing to do, and it would embarrass me to leave behind a food-splattered fridge, moldy shower tiles, layers of grease on kitchen surfaces, a filthy brown tub, etc. (just a small sample of the things we’ve had to clean up upon moving into our last two places). It makes me really angry. Moving is tough enough, and if you are one of those people who cleans your old place, the last thing you want to do is another deep cleaning before you can start settling in. Anyways, I hope your new apartment was in more move-in ready condition.

    Just to echo another commenter, there are some pros to a non-vintage apartment. I’d always lived in older places, but our last two were newer builds, and I did appreciate things like walls and windows that actually retained heat! We’re back in vintage now, and honesty, I want to pull my hair out.

  • Reply victoria March 20, 2012 at 12:33 am

    new york is lucky to have you. you’re a good tenant, and i can’t wait to see how you make the new place shine. you made this place special, and i think you’ll do the same for DUMBO – new or old, you have the magic touch. happy trails across the river! 🙂 xo

  • Reply Jaimie March 20, 2012 at 8:53 am

    When my husband and I moved from our last rental apartment to our first house, we did a very thorough clean of our apartment. It was on the main floor of a beautiful old home, and our very kind and accommodating landlords lived upstairs. We had really made the place our own, and painted practically every inch of it in the two years we lived there. We wanted to leave it clean both for the landlords’ sake and the new tenants’ sake. I guess we created some good karma for ourselves because when we moved into our house it was SPOTLESS, I mean you probably could have eaten off the (unfinished) basement floors. There was a fresh roll of toilet paper in the washroom, even! It made move-in day such a pleasure. We heard that the new tenants of the apartment were also so happy and thankful to move into a clean space. It’s just the right thing to do! (preaching to the choir here, I know).

  • Reply Jenny A. March 20, 2012 at 9:46 am

    I’ve been sad to leave, too. I sobbed as we locked the door to our tiny first house for the last time. That was the house where I brought my babies home and started my “adult” life. I love the house I live in now and wouldn’t trade it for anything, so it always seems to work-out for the best.

    On a completely unrelated note, I was actually in Newburgh this past weekend. We were taking a friend home to Hyde Park all the way from OH and had to drive through Newburgh. I was super excited and kept saying “this is where Anna and Evan live”, while my love just kept nodding and saying “yep, that’s great” in that indulgent sort of way. LOVE the area and can totally see why you’re so happy there.

  • Reply Emily March 20, 2012 at 10:27 am

    I have a lot of respect for you for doing this. I know you don’t need to hear it, but I’d like to say it all the same. Perhaps the condition of the apartment will inspire the new tenants to do the same in the future. Sometimes you have no idea how small acts of kindness can affect people.

  • Reply kay w. March 20, 2012 at 10:39 am

    i’m sorry that it didn’t work out for my boyfriend’s sister to take the place – i had seen it through pictures and it looked like such a great place to call home.

    i know exactly how you felt when you walked out of that apartment for the last time – i probably average a move every year and a half or so, and there was one apartment in particular where it hurt my heart so badly to leave it that it took me a good hour to psych myself to walk through the door and hand in my key. since moving back to nyc in october, i too was hoping we’d find someplace with a lot of history, those concrete walls and layers of paint akin to layers of time and history, something i usually find comfort in, and instead we moved to a new construct building in clinton hill where it’s exactly as you stated above. everything’s so angular, straight, sharp corners, marble countertops, a dishwasher, and building amenities. it’s so lacking in depth and quality to me. it’s an interesting dilemma though; i find if i’m the first tenant of a place that lacks any personality PERSONALITY, and be the first of many to make it a real home, it makes what was just a rental unit that much more meaningful.

  • Reply Kevin March 20, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    I totally agree about housing demand taking a toll on rental quality and cleanliness. For the last couple of years Portland only has a 2% availability of rentals so most places are grosser than normal with spiked rents. The place we just moved into seemed great during the first walk through but as it turns out a good number of our appliances are broken and things were filthy.

  • Reply Carrie March 20, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    I rented a place 10 years ago that was so dirty, I am fairly certain the cobwebs were from the Reagan era. Thick. But it was charming and adorable and I only cried twice while cleaning it. A tornado took it out in May and when I drive by it’s former location I am sad all over again.
    I’ve lived in old and new and I prefer living in old. When I bought my house my dad really pushed me toward new construation but I wasn’t having it. I comprimised and bought a 60 year old house. Post war but still has lovely hardwoods and arched doorways. The trim has been replaced though as well as the doors (which they did a good job on the doors) so I lack the cool old hardware.

  • Reply Isabelle March 21, 2012 at 5:41 am

    HI Anna, come to Switzerland. Your idea of having cleaning services do the job between tenants moving in and out is a standard. As landlords are extremely picky, you have professional, specialized services do the trick, that you as a normal person will never be able to do. As a result, you find old kitchens here that are still in perfect shape and like new after decades of tenants living with them. And I had to smile when I read that you have always left places in a better state than when you rented them in the beginning. That sounded like home to me. We have always upgraded every apartment we lived in and today I doubt if it was worth it every time we did ….. Looking forward to seeing picture of the new place. And hope that you will have soon some time to relax. You must be totally worn out. BR Isabelle

  • Reply Kati @ so happy home March 21, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    I commend you on your efforts to leave your space better off than when you found it. It speaks to your character, and even if landlords don’t appreciate it (or even notice), certainly the new tenants will. I once moved into a rental in Brooklyn where the real estate broker set me up with a floor refinisher (that I paid for) since the apartment had just had the wall-to-wall carpet removed (presumably after the previous long-time tenant passed away). I think NYC landlords simply expect tenants to foot the bill on upkeep since, as you said, the demand is just that high that they can get away with it.

    Regarding your sadness at leaving your space, I completely understand. I’ve moved something like 35 times in my 38+ years, and no matter how long or short a time I live somewhere I always end up sad to leave… even when leaving is for greener pastures. Good luck in DUMBO. That brand new space will only feel like that until you put your stamp on it. xoxo

  • Reply Erica W. March 22, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    I always feel sad when I leave a place I’ve lived, too, and am equally curious about who will live there after me. I often drive past old apartments and try to get a glimpse in the window to see who’s there now.

  • Reply Allyn April 14, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    I have been reading your blog for a while, particularly because I partly grew up also in the Hudson Valley, in New Paltz. But the other part was in Washington Heights – on Bennett Avenue! I’m beyond curious to know if you were in the same building. I’m sure it’s a long shot… we were at number 10 Bennett. Can you reveal this information?! 🙂

    • Anna @ D16 April 14, 2012 at 11:39 pm

      Nope, not the same building. Other end of the street.

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