Can I Live in a NYC Railroad Apartment With a Roommate?

railroad apartment NYC

When first moving to New York City, like many creatives, I came with limited job prospects, enough money for a few months of rent, and the notion that Williamsburg or Bushwick had to be my new home. In addition to my naively-imposed constraints, my apartment search was additionally complicated by the fact that I didn’t live in NYC already.

After a month or so of frustrating searches, I committed to what I believed to be the least of apartment evils I had to choose from: Moving into a tiny, railroad apartment with a roommate. To paint a picture of the space:

  • The entrance to the apartment was through the kitchen.
  • Off the kitchen was one room with a toilet and a separate room with a shower. Neither of these closet-sized rooms had a sink.
  • The “hallway” that ran through the apartment passed right through the middle of the two bedrooms.
  • Average size of each room was somewhere around 100-120 square feet (about 10 x 12 feet).

What were my roommate and I thinking? Budget. We had to be able to pay all of our bills and loans easily, and still have money to spend on fun.

Even though my roommate and I were convinced we could make this work, we greatly underestimated the length of a year-long lease, and the patience required to see it through. We remained very close friends afterwards, but were feeling free and happy Fraulein Maria-style.

sound of music hills are alive

Railroad apartments can be a dream for couples looking for deals in popular neighborhoods, such as Park Slope, Cobble Hill, and the aforementioned Williamsburg. But for roommates, it’s a very different story. Here’s a few key questions to ask if you are considering it:

  • Are you OK with your roommate knowing all of your business?
    It’s inevitable. You will constantly be walking through each other’s rooms to accomplish everyday tasks. You will overhear everything, walk in on your roommate with a significant (or insignificant) other, and learn intimate details of each other’s lives. If you don’t have an ounce of sarcasm in your body, this may not be the best living situation for you.
  • Are you responsible enough to clean up after both you AND your roommate without complaining?
    This could be said for anyone moving into their first apartment. Some people shed more hair than others. Others keep rooms cluttered for days before straightening up. If you can’t handle the situation with patience, don’t do it.
  • Can you romanticize out-of-date appliances or possibly needing to crouch in the shower?
    Almost all railroad apartments are in older buildings, which means they come with added “charm.” This is something you can do very little about. Approach the situation with humor, sarcasm, or even a romanticization of the bohemian lifestyle.
  • Do you share a similar lifestyle to the person you are living with? And, does that lifestyle include lots of time away from your apartment?
    It becomes far easier for a friendship to survive this situation if both parties involved hold similar hours in both their work and social lives. Think about it — you will be passing through each other’s spaces each morning and throughout the day. If you are not in go-mode at similar times, this can become incredibly irritating.
  • Can you handle face-to-face conflict with your roommate, and then get over it?
    This is probably the most crucial question to ask yourself. This is not going to be a situation where you can shrug off arguments, or resort to emails and texts because you can’t handle face-to-face conflict. The cramped living provides too many reasons to irrationally resent each other. You must both be emotionally mature enough to have an argument, understand each other’s frustrations, and let it go.

Railroads can be a great way to save on rent when you are moving to NYC for the first time. If you answered majority of the above questions with a “yes,” then I would say go for it. You’ll survive. Even if it turns out badly, it will give you fodder for stories to tell on Tinder dates.

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