When Rent Control Is Controlling You

Nora was so ecstatic when she got the apartment on Spring Street that she was in tears when she got the news.  It was December of 1967, and she just broke up with her fiance Rod.  She was going to have dinner with her girlfriend last week, but Dottie cancelled, so she decided to surprise Rod by stopping by his place to grab some pizza at their favorite joint down the street.  She never imagined that she’d  find him splayed out with Gwen, the downstairs neighbor, in his bedroom.

“Oh, and just before the holidays, too!” was all she could muster up to say before she ran out of Rod’s apartment and his life forever.

She couldn’t afford to stay at her current place on the Upper West Side, even though she had put some money set aside for her wedding dress.  She picked up the classifieds and landed a place Downtown.  The landlord was only asking for $49.16 a month.  The one bedroom was dingy and smelled of cigar smoke, but Nora felt that it just needed some new curtains and a fresh coat of paint to make it habitable.  Soon, however, the white lace curtains she picked up from Gimbels browned from the smokers that hung out on the stoop right below her kitchen window.  The garbage trucks and police sirens that passed by her building at all hours of the night never let her get a good night’s sleep.  She could hear the super while he was hacking up the morning of phlegm with his breakfast of unfiltered Camels as she headed off to work.

Her new living arrangements made it even harder to get over Rod, but she was never able to trust any one after that.  She went on dates and to cocktail parties here and there, but there was no one that measured up to her Roddie.  She let the rest of her twenties go by without being attached, and she then grew to like her rent-controlled apartment.  She caulked up her windows to block out the smoke and the noise, and always had fresh flowers on her nightstand to brighten herself up first thing in the morning.  Then, it happened.

His name was Bob, and he was charming and would take Nora out to dinner and to the theater.  He was eight years her senior and had flecks of gray in his distinguished sideburns that reminded Nora of Peter Lawford, her favorite actor.  He worked for an accounting firm on Madison Avenue and lived on the Upper East Side.  He was recently divorced and had three kids in boarding school.  Bob would take Nora up to his cottage in Maine for entire weekends together.  Nora was in love, deeply in love.

When Bob proposed, it came as a complete shock, even to Nora, when she turned him down.  She just couldn’t give up her apartment.  Her rent had stayed the same while everyone else’s had tripled.  How can she ever give up such a fantastic setup?  She was offered a promotion to head the Chicago office, but it still wasn’t enough to make her leave her treasured home.

After breaking up with Bob, she avoided relationships altogether- of any kind. She didn’t want to risk getting her heart broken again, and she got rid of all her friends after they grew envious of how cheap her rent had become. She was content to be a mid-level editor at the publishing company she worked, and to deal with the increasing crime in her neighborhood, she got an extra deadbolt for her door and never went out after dark. Nora wanted to get new appliances for her kitchen, but that would have meant a rent increase, so she told her landlord that she would live with just the one functioning burner on her stovetop.

New construction began on her street, and Nora became nervous.  Word spread that her new landlord was trying to kick out all the rent-controlled tenants.  Nora never answered her door or left her apartment for too long since she was afraid that someone would come and change the locks on her.  She became a recluse and a hoarder, but nothing meant more to Nora than to keep her dwelling for $49.16 a month.