New York Renters Are Now Paying the Price for the ‘Covid Discount’

“It breaks our heart,” she said. “We had lived in that neighborhood for eight years. We knew every single doorman. We knew people in the neighborhood. We were hoping to blend our former lives with our new lives and that was an opportunity that was not given to us.”

Many New Yorkers moved during the pandemic in search of not just better rents, but better housing. Caroline Lewis and her roommate traded in a tiny Lower East Side apartment plagued with roaches and leaking radiators for an East Village three-bedroom overlooking Tompkins Square Park in October 2020.

“Suddenly we could afford to have a place that had a dishwasher, which was nice, and my bed didn’t touch three of my bedroom walls,” Ms. Lewis, 25, who works in political communications, said of the $3,300-a-month space.

A year later, the landlord raised the rent to $4,700, a 42 percent increase, with an 11-month lease. Rather than move, the pair found a third roommate. Last week their landlord raised the rent again, to $6,300 a month, a 34 percent increase from the previous year, and a 91 percent increase from 2020. A search of the apartment’s rental history shows its highest rent, $4,700 a month, was in 2017.

“It shocked me,” Ms. Lewis said.

The roommates huddled in the living room, calculators out, trying to find a way to keep their household intact. They contacted the landlord, asking to negotiate. “The chances of that happening are slim to none,” Ms. Lewis said. “I may as well win the lottery.”

On Monday, the landlord came back with an offer of $5,800, still out of reach, but close enough to make the decision that much harder. “There’s no real winning in this situation,” Ms. Lewis said, noting that the offer also included an additional $1,700 security deposit. “I either pay $500 a month more and go into debt or I go home and let my best friend down.”

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