A modern day love story: girl finds apartment, girl falls in love with apartment and moves in, four years later, the building goes condo and the girl has 60 days to vacate.
I spent my first year in Philadelphia living in a row house with a roommate, a lovely but straight up filthy girl I met on Roommates.com. Going into my second year in the city, I was ready for my own place. I found an apartment in the classifieds (because that’s how long ago this was): a one bedroom apartment near Rittenhouse Square for $700 a month, utilities included. Unheard of in that neighborhood, even in 2003. I showed up to the open house and was immediately intimidated. Everyone there looked older, very adult-like with their shit firmly together. I, on the other hand, had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t have the forethought to bring my checkbook with me because I didn’t know that I needed to fill out an application (let alone pay a fee to submit said application). Not wanting to broadcast my ignorance, I loitered around until everyone else had left so that I could ask the owner where I could drop of the application and check without an audience.
The property owner was a soft-spoken woman in her 70s whose English wasn’t the greatest. I chatted her up, hoping I could build a rapport before I asked her my embarrassing questions about the application process and reveal the fact that I had no idea what I was doing. I divulged that I was a full-time grad student and part-time nanny. She asked how much money I made and I was honest—not much. She told me that I would need a co-signer. My heart sank. There were at least 15 applications stacked on the kitchen counter and, more than likely, those people had real jobs and didn’t needed their mom’s social security number in order to complete the application process. So you can imagine my surprise when I got a call from the property management office letting me know that the apartment was mine. He sounded as surprised as I was.
“Yeah, I don’t know. She said you seemed like a nice girl.”
It was almost four years later, in that same apartment, when I received some sad news by way of a letter slipped under my door: the nice old lady who’d given me that apartment had passed away. About two months later, I received some more bad news under the door: the building had been sold, the new owner was renovating the place into condos, and we all had 60 days to get out. I had no idea where I was going to go or what I was going to do, but I knew two things for sure:
1. I wasn’t paying another cent in rent.
2. I wasn’t going anywhere until my 60 days were up. On principle.
The tenants in the other five units had other plans. After about 30 days, I surmised that I was the only left living in the building. I wasn’t having much luck finding a new apartment. While the cost of rent had drastically increased in the four years I’d been living on Pine Street, what I could afford to spend on rent had not. I was starting to panic and my boyfriend at the time wasn’t helping matters. He was very cavalier about the whole thing and wasn’t particularly helpful beyond the occasional, “You’ll find something, don’t worry about it.” Eventually, he confessed that he was secretly terrified that I was going to try to move in with him. Spoiler alert: we broke up a few months later.
One spring morning, about 40 days into the 60, I was running late for work. Like, really late. Which never happened. Technically, I didn’t need to be to work until 9AM but I always got to the office around 7:30 or eight so that I could have the office to myself and get some work done before the other designers showed up. But this particular morning, not only was I late for my usual time, I was running late for the official start time. I rushed down the stairs and out the building’s front door and almost ran right into a red pickup truck that was parked on the sidewalk in front of the building, completely blocking the doorway.
“So obnoxious,” I thought to myself, rolling my eyes, and proceeded to walk around the truck and on my way. The gentleman sitting in the driver’s side of the truck jumped out, still talking on his BlackBerry.
“Hold on,” he said to his phone. “Did you just come out of that building?” he hollered after me. His tone bordered on incredulous.
“Yeah,” I huffed. I was late, annoyed, and not in the mood to discuss my living situation with this dude.
“Let me call you back,” he said to his phone and then put it in his back pocket. “You’re still living here? We thought the building was empty. We are supposed to start demo today.”
“NO! You can’t! I still live here! All my stuff is still here! I still have like three weeks!” My voice was shrill and borderline-hysterical, but I didn’t care.
This man who had shown up to destroy my home assured me that they wouldn’t do anything until after the new building owner contacted me to clear things up. I went to work and spent the rest of that day chain-smoking cigarettes and lamenting to anyone who would listen about how much my life sucked. That night when I got home from work, there was yet another note under my door. The note instructed me to give the owner a call and provided his phone number.
“So, you’re still living in the building?” He sounded so casual about it, I wanted to reach through the phone and punch him in the throat.
“Yes, AND I still have, like, three weeks left!” I was trying so hard to sound like a hard ass, but the fact that I was trying not to cry was all too audible to both of us.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. We didn’t know you were still in there. But now we do. I just wanted to make sure you have a place to go. Do you have a place?” He was being very nice and sounded genuinely interested in my well-being. So naturally, I started to cry.
“Not yet, but I will. I’ll be fine. Thank you.” I was trying my damnedest to keep my voice from trembling. I was wildly unsuccessful.
He told me to take all the time I needed. He told me that he owned multiple properties around the city and that he could help me find a place if I needed help. But asking for help or even accepting help has never been my strong suit, so I thanked him for the sentiment and then proceeded to find a place on my own. I was able to find another nice old lady who owned a building two blocks away. A nice old lady who didn’t know the going rates for rent in that neighborhood.
That whole ordeal, from beginning to the bitter end, was rough. And I definitely got very “woe is me” about it. I couldn’t let go of what terrible luck I had, how all these bad things were happening to me. It wasn’t until much later that I was able to look back on that spring morning and see exactly how lucky I was.
The same morning that a truck full of men come to start demo on my apartment building was the one morning that I was super, duper late for work. If I wasn’t running late, then I might not have walked by that guy’s truck. And he wouldn’t have known someone was still living there until it was potentially too late. Hell, if I had made a right coming out of the door instead of a left, I wouldn’t have walked by the truck at all. And I was lucky that the new property owner happened to be a compassionate human being who wanted to make sure I had a place to go before he got on with his real estate plans.
This is one of my favorite stories to share. It’s maybe not the funniest of tales I tell, but it’s a good one. It was a shitty set of circumstances in which I was able to find the good. I was able to flip the script and instead of seeing how terrible things were, I could see where things and circumstances piled up in my favor. And I started trying to do that more often. I’m not saying it’s easy, or that I am able to do it all the time. And man alive, sometimes you really got to dig to find something good in the pile of bad. But if you look for it, and I mean really look for it, sometimes you’ll see that things worked out in your favor. Even when it doesn’t quite feel that way at first.
Give it a try sometime. Let me know how it goes.