We’ll Split Rent Evenly and Other Roommate Lies of Post-Boom New York

"When I told him, ‘No thanks,’" Ms. Lee said, "he was trying to convince me that it was great, like, ‘You can have a washer and dryer! There’s lots of space!’"

 

CHEATING AND LYING COMES in many forms, but perhaps the most disgusting looks like a tick and feeds on human blood: bedbugs.

"There were a couple cases where roommates would lie to newcomers," said Maciej Ceglowski, the founder of the Bedbug Registry. "They just wouldn’t mention it to newcomers, which I thought was kind of shocking and really unethical."

Mr. Ceglowski, a 33-year-old computer programmer, created the Registry in 2006 as a forum for tenants to warn potential renters of infestations. (Although Mr. Ceglowski does not verify the site’s information, he forbids anonymity for posters who refer to landlords by name.) Judging from the 20-odd posts he receives every day, mostly from New Yorkers, he says landlords frequently withhold information about bedbugs.

It’s less common for roommates to lie about pests–"because the roommate’s going to find out eventually, and that can’t be a happy conversation," he said–but it does happen.

"I started showing bites the second or third day," wrote one poster in September, referring to an apartment in Bushwick. "[The primary tenant, Larry] claimed no knowledge of the bugs, then acknowledged that there was a problem a year ago but it had been cleared away. … I left at the end of the month. On the way out I noticed the other roommate was covered in bites as well. I left a note for the next roommate and a jar of dead bugs so that he would understand. He moved out the next day but I think Larry is looking for a new roommate."

Mr. Ceglowski’s girlfriend had a similar experience: After moving to her Park Slope apartment, she learned that another unit in the building had an infestation. All she could do was wait–until the bugs came through the walls and crawled into her mattress. She has since moved.

 

WHAT MOTIVATES THESE LIARS-BY-OMISSION? Money.

Apartment rents citywide during the recently passed economic boom only increased, often to records, spurred by job growth, which, in turn, spurred demand for housing. Some higher-end apartments can now command rents of over $90 a square foot annually (that’s $750 monthly for a 100-square-foot room), though the citywide average annual per-foot rent is probably closer to $25. Strapped lease-holders and small-time landlords see the dollar signs and can be forgiven for a financially motivated fib.

Or can they?

Since moving out on Oct. 2, Mr. Noia has been sleeping on a friend’s couch, living off unemployment insurance (he lost his job in medical billings and collections), and apartment hunting. He left a note with his former landlord to warn him about the basement tenant, his old roommate, and posted a reply to the roommate’s ad on Craigslist, which now advertises the room at $140 per week.

"I put that posting up to warn people before they call this guy," Mr. Noia said. "I want them to know that they’re in for a pretty big shock."