In 2008 I made a deal with my New York landlord. He (or rather, they) knew I wasn’t living there, and were preparing eviction proceedings, but the department that renews leases had automatically renewed mine anyway — they sent a renewal lease, I signed it, they countersigned it. Their lawyer was so pissed. The market was still going great guns then, they could probably have taken both my two studios and gotten the full market price of two for them instead of less than the price of one. (How I came to have two tiny skylight studios, side by side, for such favorable rents is one of those New York real-estate shaggy dog stories you really don’t want to hear, unless you’re a New Yorker, for whom this stuff is like porn; but it involved the kind connivance, back in the ’90s, of my surviving neighbor, who had her 98th birthday this fall). The landlord’s left hand had basically screwed the right hand by signing away two more years on the one that has a lease, because it is rent stabilized. My other studio was rent controlled, which meant I was a statutory tenant. I had moved into the building in May 1971, one month before rent control ended. What can I tell you, I have a real estate guardian angel.
I went up to New York for just a day, because my home health aide was turning into a crackhead. (The one visit with friends I didn’t cancel, providentially as it turned out, was this one.) I shocked the landlord and his lawyer by telling them the unvarnished truth (something that possibly no one in a landlord-tenant proceeding had ever done before): yes, I wasn’t living there; here’s why; here’s where I live; here’s what I want. Long story short, I gave up the rent controlled studio I’d lived in since 1971 in exchange for one more two-year lease renewal on the rent stabilized one, the one where my beloved neighbors, two women, art-book editors, had lived and painted and partied since 1939.
It was a hassle and expensive, in time and lawyer’s fees, to pull off that deal, and many times in the years since I have thought it was a costly sentimental folly, though understandable. My homesickness for New York gradually faded, or so I thought. It seemed as if Jacques could go on indefinitely — well past the end of my last New York lease — and I was so fine with that. Ready to go on indefinitely with him.
The deadline was February, 2011.
Sometime in October, when J was already so sick, my subtenant up there informed me that the landlord (presumably his left hand) had once again sent me a renewal lease — no doubt again by mistake. (The landlord owns a lot of buildings and has bigger fish to fry.) I signed it, and sent it back, and waited. I was still hoping against hope that J would live on, incidentally sparing me what seemed like a tough decision: to move back to New York, or not.
When he left this world, my feelings changed. For one thing, there wasn’t a place or a sight or a gesture in Chapel Hill that meant anything to me but taking care of him. Everywhere I turned, everything I did, stabbed me like stepping on broken glass. For another thing, he would want me to go back to New York. As far as he was concerned, we had never left, and I figure he took off for there immediately if he hung around Earth at all. (Someone asked if I had felt his presence around me since he died. “Not until one night about three weeks later,” I told them. “I think he had trouble finding Chapel Hill.”) And finally, it seemed to me that if I was presented with the chance to live semi-affordably in New York City for a few more years, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse and would never forgive myself if I did. There’s all kinds of full-circle, or maybe spiral, stuff going on.
So I waited to see if the landlord would execute the renewal lease — by mistake — again. If that was going to go off automatically, I didn’t want to rock the boat by notifying him prematurely that I was coming back. Any vestigial impulse he (they) had to fight it (they couldn’t have won, but who needed the anxiety?) would, I reckoned, crumble before a fait accompli.
I waited . . . had they caught their no-longer-a-mistake?
Finally I texted my subtenant, “No lease, time to notify landlord? :( ” The next day I got back, “Hi Annie, good news!!! lease finally came on Monday. Sorry flew out to Seattle same day visiting family got caught up. Will send to you when I get back.”
So today I took another step on that foggy road ahead: I wrote and mailed this (address redacted for privacy).
To whom it may concern:
Regarding my tenancy of West 4th Street, Apartment 5B, which I agreed in a negotiated settlement (in May 2008) to vacate at the end of this lease period (February 2011) if my husband’s illness prevented me from returning to 5B by that time:
This is to notify you that my husband died on November 19th, 2010 (I will be glad to send you a copy of his death certificate on request), and so, somewhat to my surprise, I will be returning home to 5B as soon as I settle my affairs here. Accordingly, I have signed a renewal lease for 5B, which has been executed, and am in the process of changing my legal residence, driver license, etc. back to that West 4th Street, NYC address preparatory to returning.
Thank you very much.