Studio in Renovated Tenement


Location East Village

Rent $833.98 (rent stabilized)

Square feet 450

Occupant Jonathan Swerdloff (real estate lawyer)

You have a small snow globe collection! My parents used to take me around the world. I’d get snow globes. I was a little spastic 11-year-old and I didn’t have a clue. It was always, “There, I have my snow globe and I can shake it for a couple of seconds and then go outside and play.” The last one I got on my own was from Key West.

With a little brown, red, and white boat inside. Your parents got you your apartment. I’d just graduated Vassar and I was on my way to law school and Cardozo didn’t have housing at the time. So my mother put her ear to the ground, not letting her only cherished baby child sleep on the street. This was a few years ago. She’s a lawyer just outside of Hartford, in practice with my father. “Another lawyer in the family,” she was kvelling, “but he needs housing desperately.” It was sort of an emergency because I was working in Maine then, a summer camp. I’d been going there since I was 10. After a few weeks of this, she got a call from the woman who owns a clothing store that she shops at, ah, it’s called Artichoke, and the woman said, “My son’s next-door neighbor just disappeared on First Avenue.” My mother called my father. They canceled their court appearances and drove down. They were a little afraid of the neighborhood. My parents remembered the East Village from when they were my age, before it was safe to walk the streets at night.

[As I write this—just in!—three people were shot not far from here. But let the interview continue.] After talking to the superintendent, the salesman at Little Ricky’s, they were sold. By the time I got back from summer camp, they’d gone to the trouble of furnishing the entire apartment.

There is a wonderful cohesiveness, the design and all—beige, black, more beige . . . They’re more A-list than me. They get invited to better parties.

Let’s see a photo. Oh, they look very progressive. Your father has a shaved head. What is your view? [I walk over to the windows.] A brick wall.

I like how politely and formally you are sitting in the straight chair. It’s so clean here. What was your house like growing up? A Japanese garden, big white Colonial. My friends wouldn’t come over because it looked like a museum. My father has a collection of netsuke, little ivory figurines that Japanese men used to wear on their money belts. My mother collects Hopalong Cassidy soaps, dolls.

When I heard you were a real estate attorney, I thought you would be savvy about apartments. No, I do first-time home sales in Brooklyn, Staten Island. It’s not about apartment rentals. Whenever someone wants to buy or sell a house, they come to us to protect them. We check the contract to be sure no one is trying to sneak anything in.

Oh, you said you had some battles here. Mice. There was originally an entirely flat rubber strip under the front door. Mice ate their way through it to get in at which point I discovered D-Con, which they would eat. The way it works is that they eat it, get thirsty, go back to their nest to find water and then they hemorrhage and die.

And the carbon monoxide matter? There was a smell. It was from a misfiring start motor in the oven in the Chinese restaurant downstairs. The problem was that it only misfired when it was starting. By the time I’d call Con Ed and they would get here, the carbon monoxide had burned off.

So then what? At one point, I decided to call Con Ed before they turned on the oven. So by the time the guy got here, the carbon monoxide was just starting up. I said, “So I’m not crazy?” He said, “No, you’re not. There’s enough carbon monoxide in here to kill somebody.” This had been going on for two years. No one believed me.