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The United States Of Paranoia And Bureaucracy

The hell involved in finding an apartment in New York.

“My favourite town in Germany is Belgium”

– An American in a bar on Saturday night to myself and a German tourist upon hearing that we had both just come to New York from Germany.

Before we start I just want to get something straight; Anna and myself are having a great time here, living in New York is so much fun, we are having an absolute blast. We keep meeting interesting people and getting into bizarre situations. In fact, I’m going to make an effort to try to put a “Quote of the day” type thing, as I’ve done here, for each post while we’re in the USA from now on, because we just keep hearing the most ridiculous remarks. Anyone who thinks we are having a bad time here is sorely mistaken, but let’s face facts here: Nobody would watch the news if they just mentioned all the things that went well that day. That’s just not interesting. So, instead, let’s have a look at something that is frustrating the hell out of us…

My parents called on Thursday for the first time since we had arrived in New York. Besides coming to Singapore and Malaysia for our wedding, they have never traveled overseas before and most likely never will again, so they always have a lot of questions when Anna and myself go somewhere new. One of the first questions my father asked about New York was, “Are there a lot of homeless people?” Now, to be honest, there aren’t as many as I expected. Realistically, there are probably more in Paris (now that was a surprise), but there still are quite a few here. In the past I’ve wondered how one gets to that point in their life; Is it poor judgement and bad life decisions? Lousy financial advice? Perhaps it was just plain ol’ bad luck.
There aren’t too many homeless people in Melbourne, Australia, where I come from. If there are any in Singapore, the country I now call home, they’re kept nice and hidden away. There are tons in Europe, but about 95% of them can probably blame the European financial crisis. But what about here in the United States? Maybe their experiences were just a worse version of ours.

Our new home

Our new home

After the time we’ve spent trying to find an apartment that we like within our price range that suits our needs, come to an agreement on the terms of the lease with the landlord, and organise moving in, I’ve come to the conclusion that the stripes on the American flag must symbolise red tape. Not a single procedure has been easy and we’re not even close to complete.
We came to New York on the 30th of June and, thanks to the generosity of Anna’s auntie and uncle, have had a place to stay for the first month we are here until the lease on that property expires on July 31st. We have spent almost every spare moment trying to find an apartment, but we have been plagued by many bureaucratic problems, but I mentioned the main one in a previous post: Although Anna is contracted to work as a surgeon here and has been given a grant to cover living costs on top of her regular wage, the grant and her wage is paid by her hospital in Singapore, not New York, therefore she is considered a risk by most landlords, unless we do one of the following:

  1. Pay a substantial amount, most landlords request the full 12 months rent up front on top of the fee we have to pay to the agent.
  2. Find someone to be a guarantor.
  3. Pay 15% to a company to be our guarantor.

Paying 12 months rent up front on a 12 month contract technically isn’t renting in my honest opinion, so we decided to find a guarantor. The initial prerequisites to being a guarantor are:

  1. Must have an annual income 80x the monthly rent
  2. Must be able to supply individual pay slips and tax documents for the last two years.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Despite how high rent in New York is, we managed to find several people who were willing to be guarantors for us, but their interest waned after they were asked for more and more paperwork, to the point where they thought it was a scam, despite the fact that this was happening from several different landlords.
We found an apartment that we liked (above, left) on the 10th of July. On the 15th we came to terms on a deal without a guarantor and only a seven month deposit was required. Woo hoo! Time to sign the contract! Anna was required to fill in the lease agreement online, what could possibly go wrong? Well, apparently she had used a font that was too small, despite being the exact same font that the form was written in. They then asked Anna to fill it out by hand, but everyone knows that doctors have terrible handwriting, left-handed ones are probably even worse, however, they accepted it. Weird.

We had sufficient funds for the deposit in a Citibank account in Singapore, so Anna went into a Citibank branch here to get a guaranteed cheque to make the payment, but there was a catch; The funds in our account aren’t in US dollars so they won’t issue a guaranteed cheque as international accounts aren’t recognised, despite being shown our balance and the conversion into US dollars. This resulted in further problems

  • We could open a new account here, but transferring funds from the Singapore account requires a dongle for security. We didn’t bring it with us because we haven’t needed it for Citibank in other countries.
  • We could write a cheque, but that would take several days to clear and our apartment would get relisted in that time, because the landlord would assume we don’t have the cash.

Luckily, we found a way around it all and were able to get the money so we signed the lease and got the keys. That’s the end of part one of this bureaucratic nightmare.

The next step is moving in. When I went to the apartment to take measurements, the doorman told me that anyone who enters the building needs liability insurance. To quote the man himself, “Even if it’s just to change a lightbulb”. We were then presented with these documents:

I always thought it was just a stereotype, but, apparently people in the USA like to sue each other. We’ve bought a lot of furniture for the new place, but before it can be delivered we need to make sure the delivery company has a copy of this form or they have their own liability insurance that protects the building management, the delivery crew, and both Anna and I. Anna ordered quite a bit of furniture from different places, so this was required from many assorted people. We also need it from the management of the building we’re moving out of on the day of the actual move, which is the 27th of July.

We bought the trolley that day and the wheel fell off three times, the first time within 10 minutes of use. Ikea quality...

We bought the trolley that day and the wheel fell off three times, the first time within 10 minutes of use. Ikea quality…

So, even with careful planning, a couple on a surgeons salary came within four days of having no fixed address. Sure, ours is a unique case, but it’s easy to see how some poor planning and a bad credit history, not to mention the rental prices here, could leave someone destitute.

To make matters worse, we went to Ikea on Saturday. God, I hate that place!

Further Examples of Crazy Bureaucracy and Protocol in the United States 

  • When moving house, you can only do so  between 9:00am and 4:30pm on weekdays, strictly no moving on weekends.
  • If I use a $20 note or larger when I go to the Supermarket near my place, the cashier will hold it up to the light to check it is legit.
  • I often get asked for ID in bars here. Next month I will be 36, making me twice the legal drinking age in most countries. Yes, America had to be different yet again and make their legal age 21, but surely I don’t look that young!
  • Some websites only accept US credit cards.

To quote the Carpenters,  ♬ “We’ve only just begun…” ♪ ♫


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2 Comments on The United States Of Paranoia And Bureaucracy

  1. Sounds like you’re living it up, Tim (and Anna!)! Yeah, the best commercials in the USA are for Beer and lawyers. They love suing and that’s part of the reason bars keep asking for ID from almost everyone without gray hair – terrified of lawsuits or government inspections in case the patron is underage after all. Gotta love it!

    • Most of the commercials we see are for medication and about three quarters of the commercial is just calmly listing the possible side effects, such as “suicidal thoughts and actions”. It’s kind of frightening…

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