A Tenant's Home Is His Landlord's Castle

New Book Reviews the Origins of New York City's Famous Landlord-Tenant Trouble

Jared Day will be speaking about immigrant banks at the Tenement Museum gallery, 90 Orchard Street, on September 23 at 6:30 p.m.

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This stairway (above), circa 1905, was nearly destroyed in a fire caused by "three-months paint." while that mixture is long gone, other tenement holdovers remain. Below, a lower east side tenement still has a shared toilet in the hallway.
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Until the 1910s, tenants were liable for the conditions within their apartments, including collapsed walls and ceilings; landlords were obliged only to keep halls, entranceways, and sidewalks in good repair. Housing laws now hold landlords responsible for many conditions inside apartments, but that hasn't prevented decrepitude, like this falling East 6th Street ceiling (Below).
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Tenement dwellers in Fisher's Court on Oak Street around 1900 (Above). The court, built 40 years earlier, was noted by reformers as a building that had "deteriorated through bad management." Immigrants crammed into apartments, often run by landlords of similar ethnic background who were looking, as Day says, "to jump up economically and away socially" from the ghetto. Today, Irwin Selwen (Below), who grew up in a tenement at 45 Orchard Street, runs an umbrella store there with his wife, Beatrice. They live, however, in a co-op on nearby Grand Street.
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Photographs: Michael Schmelling
Archive Photos: NYC Tenement House Collection, NY Public Library

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