February 3, 2006 Talk About Renting a Hole in the Wall By JANNY SCOTT So you think your place is small? One night recently, a group of architecture students staying up late in a loft in Brooklyn took to amusing themselves by stuffing a mattress into a hole cut into the wall above a bedroom door. Then they tried the mattress out for comfort. Not half bad! It occurred to one of them, Nick Freeman, that people might pay money to call that elevated mattress home. So Mr. Freeman posted an ad on the Web site Craigslist: "$35 elevated mattress-sized space between rooms." He used a minimalist pitch. "Opening between hall and room available for long/short-term use, accessible by ladder, sheets and pillows not provided." The ad went up around noon, and by the end of that day, Mr. Freeman had a dozen potential takers. "I was actually surprised with the amount of places that fall into that category kind of like 'I'll rent a corner,' " said Drew Hart, who answered the ad. "I went to look at a place recently in Queens; I wasn't aware until I got there that it was a cloth shower curtain separating part of the living room." Into the six-ring circus that is the housing market in New York City where a house can sell for $40 million, an apartment can rent for $25,000 a month and extended families sleep in shifts in single rooms came the airborne mattress, at least briefly. As real estate prices remain stratospheric and people keep pouring into the city, some housing experts believe the market for space within other people's space is on the rise. On Craigslist alone, one can find hundreds of ads for rooms within apartments, beds within bedrooms, even the occasional couch if not living quarters, then living eighths. Some are available from Monday evenings through Friday mornings, some only on weekends. Some exclude kitchen privileges, request teetotalers, insist upon plant care, limit sleepovers. A few will take some of the rent in trade. "The regular value of this studio is $2,000 per month," one recent ad seeking a roommate for a West Side apartment said. "Your share of the rent is specially reduced to only $250 per month for a female in exchange for doing small chores a few hours a week (i.e. cooking, cleaning, answering phones, massage, etc.)." The ad suggested helpfully, "Perfect for a student, tourist, actress, etc." What, no cabdrivers? "You're in the subterranean world in this particular issue," said Frank Braconi, executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, a policy research group in Manhattan. "So little of it is aboveboard and legal and monitored, nobody's counting anything. You're inevitably going to be in the realm of anecdote rather than data." He added, "Anecdotally, it's overwhelmingly the case that it is going on more and more." Caroline Adalian, a 33-year-old "child life specialist" in a Queens hospital who figures she has lived in 10 different places since college, recalls being required in one New York apartment to say she was a friend of the family and never mention rent. Another woman was told to say she was the cleaning lady. A few years ago, Karen Falcon, whose family owns a brownstone on Broadway at 152nd Street, tried to find a family to rent the three-bedroom upstairs apartment. When her ad went unanswered, she tried advertising the rooms separately instead. They went almost instantly, she said; so she turned herself into an informal rental agent for a friend with a 60-unit building full of large apartments nearby. "We were inundated," said Ms. Falcon, who said tenants in the building now affectionately call it a dorm for adults. "Because young people are pouring into New York City. It's like we are such a magnet. I really feel I'm on the front lines of this." The mattress episode began sometime before dawn on Jan. 16. John Ivanoff, a 22-year-old architecture student at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, who shares the 1,500-square-foot apartment on Taaffe Place with five others the person with the only room with a real window pays an extra $50 in rent said he and his roommates and Mr. Freeman, a friend, had stayed up drinking and suddenly decided to stuff a spare mattress into the rectangular hole cut into the wall above one bedroom door. "There were three of us up there at one time," Mr. Freeman recalled. "All three of us hung out there. After the night was done, I said it would be funny if I put this on a room-share thing on Craigslist and see if anyone responds." One who did was Adam Kriney, a 29-year-old experimental jazz drummer "looking for living spaces for under $200, if possible," as he put it later. He had given up his share in an apartment in Williamsburg and had been staying on various couches of friends. "Look, I'm looking to live in a crawl space," said Mr. Kriney, who said he spent his money on rehearsal space. "What do I really need besides my laptop, a sleeping bag and a suitcase?" The mattress ad caught his eye. "I kind of thought it was like a cubby cubbyhole where I could hang out," Mr. Kriney said in an interview. "I didn't realize it was suspended. Which isn't a problem. That wouldn't be a strange thing. It's just where I lay my head. I'm only here to do my music." Tywan Williams, a 27-year-old "celebrity hairstylist" at a beauty salon in Queens who had found an apartment but could not move in until Feb. 1, answered the ad after sleeping on the A train the previous night. Another response came from Melissa Sanfiorenzo, a 25-year-old photographer just back from Spain and trolling Craigslist for a room for $400 to $500 a month. "When I saw the ad, it's like, 'This is really nuts,' " Ms. Sanfiorenzo said. "I figured being there, with time maybe something would open up. Maybe someone will move out of, like, the room. I mean the bed is on top but maybe there's a table or a big space." Mr. Hart, a 19-year-old student from Manasquan, N.J., returning to New York after a semester of travel, fired off an e-mail message to Mr. Freeman: "well O.K. I already know I'm crazy, but . . . if that bed's really for rent and you're all really as crazy as you seem as well (and those strings are strong) I'm there." He added, "Will also sleep in corner, in tent, etc. etc." An open house for the mattress was scheduled for that Saturday, Jan. 21, between 6 and 9 p.m. Mr. Hart arrived, checked out the real estate and was willing to give it a shot. But, according to Mr. Freeman, the existing inhabitant of the bedroom in question was unenthusiastic. "Pretty much that was the point where it fizzled out," Mr. Freeman said. Mr. Hart ended up finding a berth in a small bedroom in Woodside, Queens. He said he was sharing a room with another man in a four-bedroom apartment "kind of like a dorm situation." The rent is $250 a month. As for the mattress, Mr. Hart has only one regret. "I think I would have done it," he said. "Because it's, like, a good story to tell your kids."