As if a New York City renter’s life weren’t already intimidating enough — what with the rats coming out of the drains and rat skeletons raining from the ceiling, not to mention new varieties of slumlords — 26-year-old Samantha Hartsoe experienced a whole new freaky tenant story when she found an entire apartment accessible through a hole hidden behind her bathroom mirror. Hartsoe documented her finding and exploring the mirror unit in a four-part video series on TikTok that went viral today. But we still had questions even after the finale dropped this morning, so we tracked down Hartsoe, who shares her three-bedroom (plus the mystery extra space) apartment on Roosevelt Island with two roommates. The story is not so simple as an unpatched hole inadvertently giving access to a vacant unit next door; as Hartsoe tells us, even her building’s management isn’t quite sure what is going on.
This past weekend, when she came back from a hiking trip, she noticed that her bathroom was really cold. “It was weird, because I don’t have a vent that I know of in there that blows cold air.” Eventually she noticed that the draft was coming from the mirror over the sink. “I realized that it’s not connected to the wall, which seems a little strange. Sometimes mirrors are only, like, hanging … but the cold air was a little bit suspect.” When she lifted the mirror off its hanger she discovered a hole in the wall — it looks like a niche that once held a medicine cabinet, but with no back — that led to another room. And as any scary-movie character would (while we yell at the screen telling them not to do it), she decided to go in and explore the space on March 1, even as her roommate John tried to convince her not to.
Then she put on a face mask, strapped a flashlight onto her head with a hairband, grabbed a hammer (another horror-movie touch, just in case), and clambered through. Once she dropped into the room on the other side, she realized that it was likely too high off the ground for her to climb back. “I have to find my way out of here,” she remembers thinking. “I have to go back through that hole, which is pretty much impossible, or I have to find the exit of this place, which means I have to, at this point, explore it all.”
What she had entered was a full three-bedroom apartment with its windows open — that was the source of the cold draft — containing some “signs of life,” as she said in the video: a bunch of trash bags, an empty water bottle. “I was kind of expecting there to be somebody, especially with the water bottle being there,” she said. “And that definitely put me on edge.” But walking through, she realized the place was stripped and uninhabitable. “I’m not sure if it was being renovated or if it is empty. It’s really old, and nobody’s been in there a while. The shower-bathroom area is all piping — there’s no actual bathtub or toilet. The floor, and what I think would be the kitchen, was ripped up.” She did find a different way back into her own place, one that suggests that, unlike what some TikTok users assumed, this was not simply the apartment next door to hers: Exiting that apartment through the main door led her to a hallway elsewhere within her apartment complex, and she had to make her way through her building to get back to her own apartment. Despite the creepiness of the whole experience, the inspection tour did her some good: “I felt better sleeping there that night than I should have any other night.” She says she’s still avoiding her own bathroom as much as possible, though.
The story isn’t over yet, so there’s room for another dramatic TikTok-style cliffhanger: Will the super just board up the hole behind the mirror? (Probably.) Will her landlord raise the rent because she and her roommates have more space than they thought? (Not impossible to imagine. This is New York, after all.) Hartsoe says we’ll find out more tomorrow after someone from the management office comes to inspect the discovery.
(Curbed – Valeria Ricciulli, photo by illpaxphotomatic through shutterstock)