Rental Dementia: Invasive Applications

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Certain assumptions can be helpful in saving time, so I skipped the formality of verifying his income. Who would have guessed a plastic surgeon would have any trouble qualifying for a $3,000-a-month rental?

A good, thorough agent pre-qualifies every potential client, making certain that they have the income and, more importantly, can prove it on paper. I’m not that agent. I still sometimes naively believe that if they want the apartment, I’ll find a way to get them into it. Though explaining to a new renter why they need to provide such sensitive financial information to a landlord can be harder than explaining why they’ll pay through the ass for it. People basically hate turning over their bank accounts and tax returns to anyone, let alone a shabby rental agent. But this guy should have been a lock.

His office was on East 77th Street, and he wanted to be as close as possible to his work. I guess you never know when someone will need an emergency nose job. I held back a chuckle when he added, “On 77th Street would be perfect, and a doorman would be great.” Somewhere on the planet this rational may make sense, but it’s hard enough to find a decent space in the right neighborhood, let alone on a specific street. In a city this diverse, why anyone would want to live and work on the same block is beyond me. If 77th Street had a good diner and dry cleaner, my new client could avoid turning a corner for the next five yeas. I pictured him in his O.R. scrubs ordering, “The usual, Sam.”
But what do I know? A one bedroom in his price range with an elevator but no door jockey was sitting vacant on East 77th. His next option was five short blocks away, a little pricier, but with a doorman. I pitched him both and added just a touch of wisdom, “You can’t have it all, so decide what is more important.”

He wanted to see both, and our little tour would have taken less than an hour had I not gotten that whole East/West thing wrong. I could have sworn the keys to our second view were in an office on East 73rd, but didn’t realize they were on West 73rd until we were standing in front of the wrong building. I shrugged, “Sorry … my bad.” He waited at his office while I took a cab across town. An hour later, I was in another cab heading back to return keys and grab an application. He actually wanted the apartment. Lucky me, right?

The application fee was a whopping and non-refundable $200 bucks. Beyond that it was standard: tax return, pay stubs, letter of employment, etc. At the time, the apartment was still free and clear with no other applications, but an open house loomed over the weekend. Not a problem, it was Friday morning, and we had all day to be the “deal up.” I’d even spot him the fee so that he could fax everything else. We could be done by noon, but here is where, naturally, the trouble started.

He’d never rented in New York before and couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t simply take his word for income verification. In fact, he took their probing as a personal insult. He’d only been in business a year and hadn’t yet filed a tax return. His accountant wasn’t available to get us a letter. As he worked for himself, an employment letter was tricky. I have no idea how a doctor structures his business; it seemed crazy to me, but his checks were all deposited into a personal account. He considered providing even that information invasive and an unwarranted hassle to him. My only other option was to suggest a guarantor, but his ego would hear none of it. He claimed to have made over $100,000 last year, he just didn’t understand why he had to prove it.

I was stuck. I didn’t know what to tell him. He wanted to know why they were “breaking his balls” and why I was unable to guide him through the process. His war cry was, “I can’t be the first person in the history of this city to have this problem!” But I was beginning to think that maybe he was. Not so subtlely, he was demanding I find another way. I suppose it seemed absurd to him that a surgeon ought to be put through such a degrading process. On the other hand, he cuts into and rearranges healthy faces for a living, so I wasn’t about to argue over what qualifies as excessive.

The application never made it in. The open house was a bust, and the space was still available Monday morning. Perhaps he found the one landlord left in New York willing to take a tenant on a handshake and a promise. I couldn’t tell you, as he never returned my phone calls. Or maybe he finally realized that being a surgeon isn’t enough to get him into a nice Manhattan apartment. Chances are he’s still living with his parents and driving down from Westchester every morning. I guess Manhattan’s not for everybody. Not yet anyway.

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