On May 2, George Noia moved into a two-bedroom basement apartment on Long Island. His bedroom was small and windowless, and the kitchen held only a microwave and a hot plate. But of all the places he had seen, the one on Revilo Avenue in Shirley was the cheapest, at $130 a week.
Until he found out that his roommate was scamming him.
"When I heard that, I was pissed," Mr. Noia said. "I was absolutely angered by it. I’m paying more money for a smaller room?"
In September, Mr. Noia overheard his roommate chatting about their rent with one of the building’s other tenants. He confided that it cost $750 per month, meaning that Mr. Noia’s share was more than two-thirds of the total.
It’s a given in New York real estate that apartment dwellers stretch the truth to attract renters. But, with the economy tanking and more New Yorkers turning to roommates to help pay the mortgage or to offset the rent, these tiny lies are multiplying.
They cut both ways, with prospective tenants fibbing to lease-holders and smaller landlords, and lease-holders and smaller landlords laying it on thick to anyone who might save them hundreds a month.
In August, the Associated Press reported that roommate tensions were rising nationally, as people paired up to save cash. Craigslist ads like this are increasingly common: "We are looking to convert our dining room into a bedroom for a while, to save some $." The advertiser in Harlem wants $600 monthly. These ads, for roommates and rooms for rent in New York, almost doubled between September 2007 and September 2008, from 23,400 to 44,599, according to a Craigslist spokesperson.
"The more expensive the city (and maybe the worse the financial times are)," wrote Laura Diewald, founder of the Bad Roommate Project ‘zine and blog, in an e-mail, "the more likely people are to lie or cheat potential roommates."
HAVING SPENT SIX MONTHS on the Upper West Side, Virginia Lee began her search for a place closer to her friends in the "gentrified, yupster neighborhoods" of Brooklyn. She hoped to spend less than $1,000 a month.
"I’m sure everybody [lies] a little bit here and there, although you do have to live with these people," she said. "I think in all situations you stretch the truth a little bit."
Although Ms. Lee would not confess to outright deception in her application process, she admitted to finessing her image to "make myself sound really cool and easy to get along with." She introduced herself as a "28-year-old Korean girl because I thought, ‘O.K., a nice Asian girl.’ But I made sure to write in parentheses, ‘not a religious freak.’" She began leaving her business card at showings, even though she deemed it a "douche-y" tactic.
At one appointment in downtown Brooklyn, Ms. Lee’s prospective roommate grilled her for a half-hour on her movie tastes and footwear preferences. But he was brutally honest:
"He asked me, ‘When you go out to drink or dance, do you wear stilettos?’ So I told him, ‘I haven’t worn heels since I moved to New York,’ and he said, ‘Well, we’ll have to work on that. Beauty is pain, that’s how you have to be when you roll with me.’"
Another advertised his New Jersey apartment as being in Manhattan.