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Caroline Calloway's Unauthorized Magical Garden
Of course, there are tea light candles involved- and she wants to be reimbursed.
I was just about to close my eyes and try going to sleep but something caught my eye while doomscrolling on Twitter.
Oh, we’re awake!
So without further ado, let’s do a quick review on what this is all about.
Back in March of this year, news broke that the infamous influencer Caroline Calloway had skipped out on $40k in rent and left her apartment in a state of absolutely perplexing filthy disarray.
Caroline’s landlord filed a suit against her and Caroline just filed her countersuit this Wednesday.
Going through the report, I’d say it’s safe to say that Caroline’s lawyer definitely wrote pages 1-11 but I’m assuming that Caroline took over starting with the FACTS section at the end of page 11 which reads: “There are fancier apartment buildings in New York City than 205 West 13th Street (the “Premises” or “205”), but to Ms. Calloway, for over ten years, it was the most perfect home she had ever known. There is no doorman, no bedrooms even—every unit in 205 is a studio—but she loved that little building like no home she has had before or since. In fact, Ms. Calloway had a very troubled childhood, which is why she spent so much money and time making improvements to the property – because 205 was not only her favorite home, but also her first.”
The countersuit then delves into how Caroline realized the potential of her new dwellings, including the “barren, garbage-strewn, packed-dirt lot” behind the apartment building was uh… there.
“Ms. Calloway’s efforts started with the garden. It was the only real communal space at 205. But when Ms. Calloway first moved into the building in September of 2011, the space that is now a beautiful backyard was a barren, garbage-strewn, packed-dirt lot. For the first few years Ms. Calloway lived there, this miniature muddy landfill stayed that way. But, beginning in or about October 2017—after yet another spring and summer had come and gone with so much wasted potential right outside her window—she realized that if she did not fix this problem, no one would.”
With this epiphany, Caroline then took it upon herself to turn this little plot of sadness into her own little labor of love… “It took half a year just to clear out all the rot. Autumn upon autumn of decaying leaves. Shredded wrappers and plastic bags. More broken glass than really made sense for an uninhabited slice of land. One billion cigarette butts. Dozens upon dozens of hours of work. Ms. Calloway bought gloves, hoes, rakes, more hoes, more rakes. She recruited friends. The glass kept ripping their gloves, but they finally found a brand that worked. Once they cleared the debris, they realized the earth underneath was packed down hard as bedrock and when it was tilled, the dirt filled the air with a wretched smell. Ms. Calloway bought a black sand beach’s worth of topsoil and a bioweapon’s worth of fertilizer.
6. Every spring after that initial deep cleaning, from 2018-2022, Ms. Calloway would have to re-clean all the leaves that fell during the fall, but she did not mind the labor. In terms of plants, she tried to focus on perennials—things that would not die each winter and would not have to be replaced—but between 2017 and 2022, she easily spent $10,000 on gardening supplies and seedlings.”
I have to hand it to Caroline, she fully embraces all projects she takes on with an enthusiasm that if ever properly harnessed, could be really fantastic. And with her characteristic all-in approach, she spared no expense— financial and effort for this project.
PS. Caroline did once tweet this photo of her desk and it does make me want to also plant a million flowers so I too can embrace beautiful chaos.
So clearly a few plants here and there wasn’t Caroline’s plan of attack for beautification. “Certain plants, like daffodil bulbs or fern tubers only had to be purchased once. But tulips, grass, wildflowers, and herbs had to be replaced anew each year. Then there were the expensive plants like the two lilac bushes Ms. Calloway bought, the night-blooming jasmine, and the miniJapanese maple. However, the major expenses for the garden were not the plants or the uncompensated labor, but rather infrastructure. 8. In or about 2018, Ms. Calloway added five winding paths through the garden, which involved laying pavement stones, lining them with brick, and dotting them with 100 tea candles— all of which were supplies she had to purchase out-of-pocket. She bought the base for a pond along with water plants and erected several trellises in order to create a veranda. To encourage a return of wildlife in the backyard, in 2018, she sourced and kept-filled an antique birdbath, in addition to installing two birdhouses and a birdfeeder, for which she also bought birdseed. 9. In 2018, Ms. Calloway purchased a grill with a rain cover for everyone to use, two tables to eat at, eight patio chairs, and a freestanding hammock. Not only did she leave these chattels behind when she moved out so that Landlord (and its residents) could continue to enjoy them for years to come, but she was pleased to see that the listing for her own apartment included photos of the hammock, grill, and patio furniture (among other items and improvements) that she had purchased to market the building to prospective tenants.”
It would have been so disappointingly off-brand if there weren’t tea candles involved.
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The self-motivated improvements didn’t stop at only the garden, however. Caroline also tackled spiffying up her rented apartment.
“In her personal space, Ms. Calloway also spent approximately $25,000 improving it between 2017 and 2019. The tiles in both the bathroom and kitchen were cracked, so she paid outof-pocket to have both spaces fully retiled. She bought a new porcelain sink for the bathroom because the original ceramic one was splintering. She installed a French midcentury-modern hanging-lamp in the bathroom, as well as a real Murano-glass Venetian chandelier from in the entryway. The chandelier alone is worth more than $3,000, and the French lamp worth several hundred. Each of these antique chattels were left to be enjoyed by the future inhabitants of her beloved 205. She also spent over $1,000 to design and install custom sconcing around the original lighting fixture in the living room, which added an Old-World grandeur to an otherwise unassuming studio. Similar to the backyard improvements, these improvements and antique pieces were prominently featured in Landlord’s apartment listing as features to attract prospective renters. She also bought a new air-conditioner, a custom shelving unit, and a new showerhead, among other things, all of which she left behind.”
I see Caroline’s point and it’s a good one— if you’ve never dealt with landlords before. In my experience it wouldn’t matter if you left diamond-encrusted walls behind, you’re still going to get charged for having made changes to the apartment or for leaving property/furniture in the place— even if it is a real Murano-glass Venetian chandelier.
But back to Caroline’s guerrilla garden project.“The Landlord was well aware of Ms. Calloway’s costs and efforts expended but never reimbursed Ms. Calloway despite its promises to do so. Insofar as Landlord was aware of the costs and value associated with the foregoing additions and efforts, it ratified Ms. Calloway’s conduct by permitting, and subsequently utilizing, the improvements and chattels Ms. Calloway contributed to the Premises to help market the Premises to prospective tenants.”
In my very non-legal brain, this seems to translate to— well, the landlord saw that Caroline had taken it upon herself to embrace this weird pet-project which happened to be beneficial for the building, so they didn’t tell her to stop.
In any case,“In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic presented unique and unprecedented circumstances that were unforeseeable—indeed, unimaginable—even just a short time ago. The disease was highly contagious, and its spread was rapid. The government’s reaction was profound and prevented Ms. Calloway from being able to earn an income for more than two-years. And, like innumerable other New York City residents, for the first time in her ten-years as a resident of the 250, Ms. Calloway found herself in the position of being unable to afford her rent.”
The countersuit then finally transitions back into language that appears written by a lawyer, reinforcing that Caroline was unable to pay her rent and the lease was thus legally terminated under the conditions of the initial agreement. But it then follows with: “Calloway is also entitled to a refund of the expenses she paid in services and improvements made to Plaintiff’s building and in furtherance of Plaintiff’s interests, declaratory relief regarding her obligations under the Lease, and the equitable remedies described below…”
Which really, is a bold, bold approach. But they say that if you follow your passions, money will follow— so who knows? Maybe taking on projects no one asked for/wanted/etc and then billing whoever for everything they-should-be-so-lucky-you-did-for-them could work out as a revenue opportunity. Who knows.
In any case, I hope that if Caroline did have a hand in writing this countersuit, she keeps it up and finally finishes the book (titled: Scammer) she’d promised was coming. With it being already nine years in the works, I’m sure it’ll be releasing anytime now!