If you own a co-op apartment in New York City, you're generally out of luck when you want a caretaker or house sitter--every since September 11, 2001, when panic rose and rules changed. Many a co-op forbids any occupants who are not owners or immediate members of owner's families on principle, or because the co-op thinks that otherwise the bank won't respect it, or for less clear reasons.
My co-op building has a rule: subletting is allowed two out of every five years. The rest of the time, the place must lie fallow, and your super, or a friend, can come in to water plants. But nobody can live there, and if you can't live there yourself, the apartment remains empty.
I'd had lovely subletters who stayed three years, because when I wrote to request a third year, somebody at the managing agency said yes, and that somebody, unbeknownst to me, got fired.
Enter, stage left: a board member. This board member owns most of one floor of the building, and could her daughter live in my apartment and provide upgrades for a few months, that is, reside as my guest?
Could I say no? Yes, I could and should have said no. But I was afraid to do so, since the board member's vote could turn down any future sublets I might want to have. Overlooking a certain mayham in her personal style--she comes with the aura of her public intellectual ancestor and is a writer herself--I agreed, despite knowing my previous experience with her. She'd asked to use my apartment over Christmas for her family and said she'd "leave you something for the phone." What she left was a Santa hat and a phone bill for $272.
Right before my lovely subletters who stayed three years moved in--and she'd approved them--she suddenly asked to use my apartment: "The board need not know," she added. She was in the middle of a divorce, and oh, please, could she just stay in my place for three weeks. I said the board had to know and made sure the board did know.
She paid for two of the three weeks. So I should not have been surprised, but I was, to find, when I returned to my home halfway through her daughter's sublet to find that my convertible sofa, my Victorian love seat, and all of my wooden straightback chairs had vanished. Along with my French press coffee maker, my pots and pans, my can openers, a baking dish that had been a wedding present . . . .
Was there a security deposit? No. Is it worth suing her? Not really.
The lease ended and I changed the locks. I count myself lucky that the place is structurally sound, that the super only had to fix one minor leak and put one bathtub faucet back on, that the windows could be repaired, and that the stove--whose insides looked like the mammoth cave--could be cleaned and still works.
I'm awfully fond of my little apartment, and hope to have a worthy caretaker some day. I'm wondering whether co-ops will ever allow worthy caretakers. In my dreams. In my dreams.