When the laundromat near her Brooklyn apartment closed down and a pickup service proved unreliable, Rachel, a photographer, went online and bought a washer and dryer. But she didn’t tell her landlord. “We didn’t ask for fear she’d say no,” she admits. She was right: When her neighbor saw the flattened boxes at the curb the next morning, he recommended she hide them. “I used to have one,” he told her, ominously.
The appliances that the rest of America takes for granted are, in all but the newest condos, major luxuries here. The plumbing in many older buildings can’t handle them, and others ban laundry machines owing to concerns about overflows and leaks. “It’s really a problem,” says Sloane Square NYC’s Amy Tucker Meltzer, “to buy a $4 million apartment but have to go to the basement to do laundry.” For many clients, especially those with children, “an apartment without one is a nonstarter,” she says. “I’ve had people tell me a washer- dryer is more important than a doorman.”
Important enough, in fact, for some owners to install a machine on the sly. Appliance stores won’t admit it to a reporter, but when a New York staffer posing as a shopper called, several said that they often make clandestine deliveries. Anne, who had a machine shipped to her apartment near Columbus Circle, requested that her neighborhood retailer use an unlabeled box. Branches of one major chain admit to hiring subcontractors—paid in cash—who rewrap machines in TV boxes or camouflage them with bubble wrap.
Rachel says she already plans to disconnect her washer and wheel it into the bedroom if the super needs to enter her apartment. But Anne worries she’s been found out: Recently, her washer flooded, damaging her floors. “We’re going to say it’s the toilet,” she says, adding that she’s getting rid of the machine. “It’s too much trouble, and I don’t want to take the chance again.” Halstead broker Denise Rosner wants to avoid problems, too, which is why she’s showing a one-bedroom on the Upper West Side with a space in the kitchen where a prohibited portable washer-dryer stood until recently. (Some boards, in fact, now check apartments before they approve a sale, she adds.) “People see [it],” she says, “and I tell them, What a great place to have a wine cooler.”