Rent Like You Mean It

19 of Our Team's Absolute Worst Rental Stories

Raining ceilings, dumpster fires, and borderline evil landlords included.

June 28, 2021
Photo by Rocky Luten

Rent Like You Mean It is a series all about giving our rental spaces a new lease. We’ve rounded up a whole host of refreshing spruce-ups (and cover-ups), impactful DIYs (plus how to get them back to square one when you leave), and peeks at real-life rental transformations. Because a lease should never stop you from having a space that feels like yours—even if it’s only for a year.

Listen, it’s a tough rental world out there. Between callous management companies, unfair laws, and (at best) apathetic landlords, it can often feel like no one’s on your side. As anyone who’s ever rented can tell you, there’s always a grievance—something broke and didn’t get fixed, pests never got fully exterminated, noisy neighbors were never reprimanded, and so on. And while owning a home certainly has its own drawbacks (um, you have to take care of the entire thing… all the time), renting a place to live often feels like the most helpless thing you can do, since basically every decision is up to your land(over)lord.

You know who is on your side, though? Fellow renters.

I, too, have had my fair share of rental run-ins. In my first NYC apartment, the only way for the landlord’s handyman to access his workshop was… through what was essentially our living room. We ended up living in the apartment for two years—during which the handyman came in every. Single. Day. And he reeked so badly of cigarettes that the smell would linger long after he was gone each time. Did I mention that this apartment also was on the “garden” level, therefore lacking any natural light and attracting plenty of cockroaches and ants? That, too.

While my first apartment was part of a larger building, my current one is the first floor of a two-family home, and my landlady (along with her son and husband) live above us. Where do I start with this one? Is it her son, incessantly playing basketball outside my window, smacking my brand new AC unit with the ball at least thrice daily? Or, could it be her attempt to force us not to flush any toilet paper, as it would clog the pipes and cause a flood in the illegally-rented-to-her-family basement apartment? Or, better still, the giant leak in our kitchen that led to an eight-month renovation of the bathroom above us—leaving a gaping hole in our ceiling all the while? Or perhaps, the time they “unknowingly” let us pay for gas for the entire building for a whole year? I think that covers it, yes.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “wow, have I got a story for you,” don’t be shy—tell us below. And in the meantime, relish in the horror of others, knowing that you’re far from alone.

Just a Pest or Two

When I lived in Red Hook I had every type of pest infestation—carpenter bees by the hoard in my bedroom, a raccoon in the ceiling, ants, a mouse that ended up in my hair one night, water bugs, roaches (of course). And my first landlord helped as best that he could but he sold the building halfway through this saga and my second landlord was the biggest pest of all. He refused to do anything that actually helped and his solution to the raccoon in the ceiling was to cut down all the beautiful mulberry trees in our backyard.” —Alex Egan, Senior SEO Strategist

“This might be more my fault, but I had a raccoon crawl onto my bed through the fire escape window. I left my window open for five minutes to air my room out, but it was raining outside so I think my dry room enticed this raccoon. I also had bed bugs three times which I later realized was a building problem, and of course, my landlord never exterminated the building.” —Natasha Janardan, Social Media Video Producer

“I live in an old apartment building. Upsides: location is on a little-known street in the heart of a big city, across from a city park, no rules other than don't bother anybody, I can have pets, paint the walls whatever I please, have a real vegetable garden, and a compost pile, plus, it's cheap. Downside: No pest maintenance. I've had to replace expensive electronics—even a Vitamix—from bug damage. I unplug everything except the fridge when not in use. I keep the bugs in line with a lot of cleaning, boric acid powder. So, no Alexa for me.” —Susie W., Community Member

Constant (or Total Lack of) Upkeep

“I lived in a six "bedroom," one bath in Bushwick that was only possible because I was the only one with a 9-5 job, so I didn't have to fight for bathroom time in the morning. When I moved in, the tub was so backed up that I was standing in a kiddie pool while showering, but I seemed to be the only one who cared? There were also randomly mushrooms growing between the tiles and tub (which happened basically overnight), and I've never been so concerned, amazed, or shocked before. Among other things: one roommate hosted “plant lovers” meetings without asking (and had a greenhouse in the yard), there was no kitchen trash can, food and trash was constantly left out, and there were so. Many. Ants.” —Danielle Curtis-Williams, Manager, Marketing

“My building currently does not have gas, nor will it have gas for at least the next three months. No solution presented by the landlord or board.” —Courtney Ormon, Account Manager, Brand Partnerships

“I once lived in a building that was sold and gut renovated and I remained the only tenant. They took off the entire facade of the building plus took out the staircase (I was on the first floor) while I remained living there. My power was supplied by an extension cord running from an adjacent building.” —Noah Stitelman, Director, Customer Care

“Our current apartment has, what we call, “a death elevator.” Since we moved in (Dec 2020) it has been out of commission two to three times a week, regularly stops either one foot above or one foot below the floor it's going to, and has trapped people inside of it no less than six times. It also makes a horrific and terrifying screeching sound between the ground floor and basement floor where the trash is. Oh, and it looks like the elevator in a horror movie that someone gets murdered in—it hasn't been updated since 1974.” —Kaleigh Embree, Customer Care Specialist

Wait, It's Not Supposed to Rain Inside?

“After Hurricane Sandy, my top-floor apartment roof started to leak slightly, then more, then more, until finally the ceiling paint drooped under the weight of all the water and burst like a fat balloon. Gallons and gallons of brown water poured in, plus more every time it rained. And they just...never fixed it. Never even sent anyone to look. And then they told me they were raising the rent to $4,500! So I was like yeah, lolz, bye. That was the last apartment I ever rented. And then, coda to the story, they painted over all the exposed brick in the apartment for the next tenant??? A full tall wall of 19th-century brick, painted renter's fucking white.” —CB Owens, Copy Editor

“One time my water was a lovely red-brown color for three days because they incorrectly installed a new boiler system or something, but vitamins and minerals?!” —Kelly Vaughan, Staff Writer

“When I lived in Bushwick, it was literally raining in my apartment. RAINING. Not just leaking, but raining. Which then developed black mold. I ended up withholding back rent and only got it fixed because I had a 45-minute conversation that I recorded with my phone of my landlord illegally threatening me. Here’s where it gets fucked, though. This is said landlord.“ —Tim McSweeney, Design Director

“I lived in a building where the radiator from the apartment above me leaked through the ceiling into my closet, so I had to set up buckets around my room to catch the water. I also had to set alarms in the middle of the night to get up and empty out the buckets because they would fill up. My own radiator also would just spew water everywhere like a fire hose so I lived without heat for a while and had to get a space heater.” —Emily Leahy, Senior Manager, Brand Strategy

“So, I was living in the infamous Mckibbin Lofts (yes, they have their own Wikipedia page). The space was pretty incredible, but came at the cost of paper thin walls, no windows in most rooms, no proper electrical or lighting—aka extension cords and clamp lamps galore. One of the worst parts of the building was the plumbing. In our unit, we had a pump in our kitchen tucked away in its own closet. If a fuse tripped in our unit OR a neighboring one, it stopped working and left our kitchen and pantry flooded—this happened a number of times. The breaking point was the night it rained from the ceiling. We were frantically running around trying to cover things and save things, but ultimately, we ended up having to dispose of two mattresses. I’m so glad I got out.” —Kayla Roolaart, Assistant Buyer, Table and Barware

The Borderline Evil Landlords

“I lived in a 33-story tower with four elevators. Only two ever worked at once. I often had to walk down 25 flights in the morning to not be late for work. There were also two fires in the building in the two years I lived there—one in the garbage chute that filled the entire building with (garbage) smoke. After a gas explosion in the neighborhood, the lines were inspected and all the lines in the building had to be changed, so we were all given a hot plate to use while the work was done. They spent months jackhammering the walls of the buildings all day to do the work. I went to housing court trying to get out of my lease and LOST! I finally moved out two months before my lease ended and had to keep paying. I don't even know how long the building was without gas.” —Rob Strype, Video Editing Lead

“My landlord called me a year after moving out to ask us to pay for the removal of a satellite dish that she approved of being installed.” —Alli Guglielmino, VP, Strategic Partnerships

“My last landlord: Accused me of washing my cats in the shower when the pipes (that I don't think were replaced since the 1940’s) started backing up into the bathtub. Had my entire toilet removed from my bathroom with zero warning, put it in the middle of my kitchen, and informed me that it would be left there and I'd have to use the bathroom in the downstairs vacant apartment until the plumber could come back after the long Labor Day weekend. Harassed just about every guest I ever had over and argued loudly with my neighbors in the hall at all hours, never wore a mask once, and would barge into our apartments. When I moved in, one of my neighbors told me she would have told me not to take the place if she could have.” —Nisse Lovendahl, Care Project Manager

“My ex-wife and I were living on the first floor of a brownstone in Park Slope. The stairs leading to the apartment had a closet underneath that the landlady said she was keeping her stuff in—mind you, inside the apartment we were renting—and she could come and go whenever she wanted. And she did. She never once asked us if it was okay or if it was an intrusion—nothing! My dog hated it there, too. He escaped several times and would hang out with the neighbors instead.” —Dina Losito, B2B Business Associate

“I had a landlord who moved into the other side of my duplex with his wife. He then decided he wanted to go to clown school, temporarily moved to California, but dropped out because it was too aggressive, and transferred to another clown school. When he returned he didn't want to be encumbered by a traditional house and moved into an airstream and lived in our driveway for six months, while his wife still lived inside the house.” —Erin Sanders, Customer Care Operations Manager

“I once had to move into an apartment without seeing it for a long term work production, so time was of the essence. Upon arrival I was surprised to learn there was not a kitchen... but a microwave and a full sized refrigerator in the living room. For the next four months I washed my dishes in my bathtub (I just used Dr. Bronner's on myself and my dishes—kept it simple) and made coffee in my bedroom. The landlord refused to admit THEY FAILED TO MENTION IT before I arrived. Turns out the photos were of a model unit and most definitely not the one I was given. Thank god it was a short stay.” —Shannon Muldoon, Director, Studio52

Give us your very worst stories in the comments below, we're ready.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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    Caroline Mullen
When I'm not writing & editing for Home52, I'm likely to be found DIY-ing a new piece of furniture (or restoring an old one), hanging things on the wall in my apartment, or watching hours of vintage RHONY.


Rachel P. July 5, 2021
I've had such bad landlords renting in London my best one was dead. No, really. He was alive when we rented from him (obviously) and by the time we moved out they were still fighting over who inherited what so he was still our landlord.
George June 28, 2021
Compelling story, but on Food 52? What does this have to do with food?
Caroline M. June 28, 2021
Hi George, this is Home52, our home & lifestyle vertical. We've been publishing home content for years now!
judy June 28, 2021
These are horror stories for long term rentals. I don't have one of those. I have been lucky, I guess. What I do have is stories for short term vacation rentals. In the late spring of 2015 my husband and I went on a road trip. We took three and a half weeks. Flew to New Orleans and ended in New York--I had to see New York if I was going to do this trip I told him. He was not so keen! Location, Location, Location is the mantra for selecting houses and apartments. For us that meant accommodations that also accommodated our disabilities and health/wake sleep challenges. Well, I worked very hard on selecting places to stay on this trip. After all, we were going to be on the road for an extended period of time, and I am disabled, so every place needed to be on the first floor. There were a few other requirements besides no steps. Needed electricity as my husband uses a CPAP every night for sleeping. Another requirement was at least two comfortable chairs as well as a bed to sleep in big enough for two--alright, twin beds would work as well. And finally, my husband did not want to share a bathroom with anyone else. So I started looking online for rental spaces in private homes, by private individuals, vs commercial rentals. They were significantly cheaper. I had extensive discussions with landlords at the various Bnbs that we would finally stay at, and thought I had made myself very clear when the rentals were finalized, understanding what I was renting. And we found out as the trip unfolded, price did not dictate quality of rental space. Our first stop in New Orleans turned out to be about 45 minutes drive from Down Town. Many of th cabbies simply did not know where we were staying or how to get there. WE stayed in New Orleans for a week. The BnB we stayed in was beautiful, the landlords didn't bother us. And we had all the water, hot and cold, we wanted. But we were so far away from our target tourist sites and restaurants that what we saved in rental cost was more than made up in transportation. And there was nowhere to buy food, ready-made or groceries within easy walking distance. So there we were basically out in the middle of nowhere. The next accommodation was in Washington DC. The place promised chairs to sit on and a comfortable bed with no steps. Well, there were more than a half dozen steps, one card table like chair, and a cot that was barely a double. Nice kitchen and bathroom, and washer and dryer. But for me very uncomfortable. We were going to be in DC and surrounding community for about 16 days. I know I could not tolerate these conditions. So we looked around and found a basement BnB that was great, lots of space, lots of comfortable seating, and good location for all the Smithsonian and Capitol building viewing. But we lost all our money on the first rental in DC. Although we had spoken extensively with the landlord a head of time about our needs, we still did not get what we were told. We filed a claim, but never saw a return of any money on that one. Another stop on that trip was Boston. We got to the BnB to find that we were booked in an apartment 3 flights up--narrow twisty stairs that barely fit one of us let alone a suitcase! When we got upstairs, we found that we had half a room with a double bed. The bathroom was shared with 6 other tenants. We stayed there one night. it turned out that there was no consistent electricity for my husband to use. And the bathroom was a joke. Filty, with so many tenants using it. So we reported the problems to the BNB managing company, and looked for somewhere else to stay. WE ended up in a first floor place in another part of Boston. Probably worse than the first one. it was FILTHY!.Literally grime and dirt over every surface. There were clean sheets on the bed. WE spoke with the owner who promised over several days that the housekeeper was coming, or had been there--but it was still not clean. I ended up with some type of skin infection from the trip, and Iam sure I got it at this apartment. But, except for the filth, and the only place we felt comfortable to sit was on the bed, and we did have clean towels, it was the best location for all we wanted to do in Boston. So we stayed-for a week. But we did not dare eat in the apartment, and mostly we did possible washing, as there was no way we were going to get in the shower. We contacted the landlord and the management company repeatedly about the poor conditions. Were told several times that the housekeeper had been there that day, when of course they had not. flat out lies and deceit. That was probably the worst accommodation I have ever had in a BnB, and I have stayed in them the world over. Although a couple have come close. We went on to a lovely brownstone in Brooklyn New York. With the promise of first floor accommodations. They said just 6 steps up into the building itself. Well, we thought, that would be alright. After all, it was a row house brownstone that was built in th 20's originally. Well, we ended up on the 3rd floor. And of course it was a walk-up. By the end of our trip we were exhausted, and I was in constant pain. So we had made a point of finding a first floor apartment. No such luck. On the other hand the landlords were wonderful, delighted the we were there, entertaining, helpful and the place was lovely. so was a very mixed bag as far as accommodations, and needing to put up with (and pay for ) what we got, or pay through the nose for new accommodations on short notice. Overall it was a marvelous trip (the food stories are a whole other adventure!), but lodging was hit or miss.....
Caroline M. June 28, 2021
Wow, Judy! Here's hoping this hasn't deterred you from travel/short-term rentals in the future! I definitely spend a TON of time in the reviews section on Air Bnb and on Trip Advisor/Yelp when I'm booking trips... I find it really helps.