Cheap Apartments in Manhattan: Bargains with a Catch... or, Should I Say, a Climb

Published on Aug 31, 2011

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If someone offered you a light and airy West Village rental apartment with two full bedrooms for only $2000 a month, you'd take it a second, right? I mean, that's about $1500 less than the average price for a two-bedroom West Village rental apartment! How could you resist the ultimate prize, one of those rare cheap apartments in Manhattan? Ah, but of course, there's a catch: as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, the apartment in question is at the top of seven-story walk-up. SEVEN stories. That's ninety-four steps to climb after a long day's work, or a long night out. Still interested?

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It's been illegal to build seven- (or more-) story walk-up apartments in New York City since 1929, but when the relevant Multiple Dwelling Law was enacted, everything already standing was grandfathered in. As Sara Lebow of City Connections says in the WSJ piece, "I don't think they can ask to have the tops lopped off." Today, some 90 years later, there are still about 100 seven-story and eight-story walk-ups in New York City, all but 10 in Manhattan, and most of those in the neighborhoods of Soho, the East Village, the West Village, and the Upper East and Upper West Sides.

When the top-floor apartments in these building come on the market, reports the Journal, they're usually offered at least 15% cheaper than the homes on the lower floors. In NYC real estate, that qualifies as a cheap apartment in Manhattan, and for the budget conscious, it could mean the difference between living in the neighborhood, or moving further away.

So, is living 90+ stairs from the street worth it? The NY Times did a profile a few years ago about walk-up living, and there are some benefits; light, views, and no one walking on hardwood floors above you being chief among them. It depends on the building, of course, and the apartment itself, but all other things being equal, I think I'd grab that two-bedroom, $2000 West Village rental apartment in a heartbeat. Or, at least, as soon as I could catch my breath....

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