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The Worst Apartment Layout in NYC & Why it Even Exists

Frustrated real estate agents have taken to TikTok to express their indignation over New York apartment options. In a recent video, realtor Claudia Degteva trolled an NYC apartment with a shower in the living room. She showed off the $2,200 per month space in a post, with the caption reading, “Would you?”

@claudia_nycagent Would you? #nycrealestate #foryou #americandream ♬ American Dream – Pasha Grozdov

 The bathroom amenities are unusually spread out throughout the 1-bedroom apartment. The shower is tucked into a corner of the living room, the toilet has its own small room by the front door, and a sink and mirror can be found in the kitchen.

One of the post’s comments read, “New York can’t keep getting away with these god-awful apartment layouts. Were the architects drunk?”

Disorganized Amenities in NYC Apartments

From 500-square foot studios that do better as closets than flats, to communal apartments with shared kitchens and bathrooms—New York is no stranger to unconventional apartment layouts. The shower-living room combo is just one of many inexplicable floor plans. 

Another 3-bedroom apartment showcased by @rentnewyork on TikTok has one bedroom leading directly into the other. The washer and dryer are placed right beside the refrigerator, leaving little space for even a small kitchen table to be placed in the center.

@rentnewyork My head is hurting again 🤯 #landlords #nyc #apartmenttour #tellmewithouttellingme #fypage ♬ original sound – RentNewYork

 The only bathroom in the apartment is not-so-strategically located in between the kitchen and the 1st bedroom. People in bedroom 2 and bedroom 3 would have to pass by their roommates’ rooms to get to the bathroom. 

A at 176 W Houston St. by Bold LLC and priced at $3,100 per month features a tub right in the kitchen. The now off-market listing displays a small sink and cabinet section on the opposite wall of the stove and a large, two-panel window across from the tub. 

176 Houston Street contains a shower in the bathroom.

Outdated Legislation Gives Way for Awkward Apartment Layouts

The truth is awkward layouts such as the ones mentioned above aren’t as uncommon as you may think. There’s a historical reason as to why several New York apartments have weird layouts.

Back in the 1800s when New York apartment buildings were first built, they didn’t have running water. After modern germ theory was discovered in the late 1800s by the French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur, governments started mandating all residences to have running water. 

New York passed the Tenement House Act of 1901, requiring building owners to install pipes and kitchen sinks into their tenants’ apartments. Of course, not all building owners knew about architecture, so running water appliances were installed wherever they could fit, just one of many problems with Tenement buildings.

In 1929, yet another piece of housing legislation was enacted, requiring “every washbasin, bath, shower, sink and laundry tub [to] be provided with an adequate supply of hot and cold water.” Having to update their buildings yet again, many building owners chose the cheaper option of installing only one set of water pipes, meaning sinks and tubs were all kept in the same room. 

19th-century buildings still stand today. If they haven’t been renovated since the early 1900s, it’s likely that neither have the pipes or plumbing. This means tubs, showers, and sinks can be found exactly where the original building owner had them installed. 

Multiple Units Share Communal Bathrooms for Cheaper Rent  

In NYC you really have to pick your poison. Sky-high rents have incentivized NYC residents to settle for apartments with communal spaces, such as shared bathrooms and kitchens. In these circumstances, anywhere from 1 to 10 people can share one bathroom. They typically occupy units that are 100 square feet in size. 

Some New Yorkers have embraced these unusual living situations as a fair trade-off for cheaper rent. Single-room occupancies, or SROs, go for $1,100 to $1,450 per month in places like Manhattan and central Brooklyn. It’s a type of low- and middle-income housing that’s slowly dying off but still exists. 

Similar to the shower-living room designs, communal living spaces are also a product of American history. In the 1930s the U.S. was recovering from the Great Depression. In order to make rents more affordable, many landlords decided to subdivide their properties and cater to low-income workers. 

Although SROs aren’t always seen in the best light, they do provide affordable housing to many New Yorkers. In a borough like Manhattan where the average price of a one-bedroom is $3,500 per month, SROs provide inventive New Yorkers with a cheaper, more viable option.

Vivian Tejada is a freelance real estate writer from Providence, RI. She writes SEO blogs for real estate, travel and hospitality companies. She's passionate about the future of work and helping Latin American freelancers achieve time, location, and financial freedom. When she’s not writing you can find her at the gym, a family cookout, or at brunch with her girls. Follow her on Linkedin to learn more.