When May 1st was moving day in New York City

Moving is always hell. Now imagine if a million fellow New Yorkers were also schlepping their stuff to new living quarters on the same day you were.

Crazy, right? But this was a tradition in New York since colonial times, lasting until World War II.

[Above, an 1859 Harper's illustration captures the confusion]

On February 1 of every year, landlords let tenants know how much their rent increase would be, to take effect three months later.

If they couldn’t afford the new price, tenants had that time to scout new digs within their budget.

With the new rent due May 1, tenants waited until that day to vacate their old premises. Moving van (pulled by horses) companies and warehouse owners jacked prices; getting around the sidewalks was a serious chore.

“Old beds and rickety bedstands, handsome pianos and kitchen furniture, will be chaotically huddled together,” the New York Times reported in 1855.

“Everybody in a hurry, smashing mirrors in his haste, and carefully guarding boot boxes from harm. Sofas that go out sound will go in maimed . . . bedscrews will be lost in the confusion, and many a good piece of furniture badly bruised in consequence.”

The May moving day custom began to die down in the 1920s, as new rent laws gave tenants increased protection, and more Manhattanites decamped for new neighborhoods in the outer boroughs.

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21 Responses to “When May 1st was moving day in New York City”

  1. Christopher Says:

    This reminds me of how in Japan, April 1 is the traditional 1st day at work. Graduation is mid-March and new jobs start on April 1. (Just like April 1 is the first day of the school year — they have year round schools with a couple week breaks here and there.)

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Interesting, it sounds so regimented. But I guess it works for them.

  3. When May 1st was moving day in New York City | New York Blogs Says:

    [...] http://upcoming.current.com/nyblogs?format=rss [...]

  4. petey Says:

    i know a few tenants i’d like to see move on may 1 :(

  5. History Lessons: One way to make the experience… - The Broker Buddy Says:

    [...] One way to make the experience of moving infinitely worse: have everyone in the city move on the sam… And so it once was in New York, with tenants hearing about rent increases on February 1 and moving, if they couldn’t afford the new rent, on May 1. The custom ended in the 1920s, clearing the way for seasonal rental reports. [Ephemeral NY] Monthly Archive [...]

  6. T.J. Connick Says:

    From her Domestic Manners of the Americans, Frances Milton Trollope described the mayhem:

    “Another New York custom, which does not seem to have so reasonable a cause, is the changing house once a year. On the 1st of May the city has the appearance of sending off a population flying from the plague, or of a town which had surrendered on condition of carrying away all their goods and chattels. Rich furniture and ragged furniture, carts, waggons, and drays, ropes, canvas, and straw, packers, porters, and draymen, white, yellow, and black, occupy the streets from east to west, from north to south, on this day. Every one I spoke to on the subject complained of this custom as most annoying, but all assured me it was unavoidable, if you inhabit a rented house. More than one of my New York friends have built or bought houses solely to avoide this annual inconvenience.”

    Burrows and Wallace, in their Gotham, ascribed the practice to Dutch custom.

  7. When May 1st was moving day in New York City (via Ephemeral New York) | environments – built and unbuilt Says:

    [...] When May 1st was moving day in New York City (via Ephemeral New York) Posted on April 18, 2011 by ellenbrenna Moving is always hell. Now imagine if a million fellow New Yorkers were also schlepping their stuff to new living quarters on the same day you were. Crazy, right? But this was a tradition in New York since colonial times, lasting until World War II. [Above, an 1859 Harper's illustration captures the confusion] On February 1 of every year, landlords let tenants know how much their rent increase would be, to take effect three months later. If they … Read More [...]

  8. First of May « CollTales Says:

    [...] Enjoy Labor Day in New York City [...]

  9. Inside the Apple: Happy 80th Birthday, Empire State Building – Empire State Building Says:

    [...] Ephemeral New York recently reminded us, for years May 1 was “moving day” in New York City, when all  commercial leases [...]

  10. 60 Facts That Will Make NYC Feel Like A Whole New Place Says:

    […] outside of Israel. 7. Up until World War II, everyone in the entire city who was moving apartments had to move on May […]

  11. 60 Facts That Will Make NYC Feel Like A Whole New Place | Bringing the best news to the People Says:

    […] outside of Israel. 7. Up until World War II, everyone in the entire city who was moving apartments had to move on May […]

  12. 60 things you maybe not know about New York City! | banafsheh's layers ! Says:

    […] of Israel. 7. Up until World War II, everyone in the entire city who was moving apartments had to move on May […]

  13. 60 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About New York City | My Mental Medley & Lunatic Ravings Says:

    […] outside of Israel. 7. Up until World War II, everyone in the entire city who was moving apartments had to move on May […]

  14. Michael Cerdeiros - Cerious Productions | 30 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About New York City - Michael Cerdeiros - Cerious Productions Says:

    […] outside of Israel. 7. Up until World War II, everyone in the entire city who was moving apartments had to move on May 1. 8. The city of New York will pay for a one-way plane ticket for any homeless person […]

  15. Facts about New York City- who knew? | ANRIC BLATT Says:

    […] outside of Israel. 7. Up until World War II, everyone in the entire city who was moving apartmentshad to move on May […]

  16. Bee Says:

    Well I live in Montreal and July 1st is our moving day, of course people do move in/out on other days but it’s still mostly on that day…

  17. 60 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About New York City Says:

    […] outside of Israel. 7. Up until World War II, everyone in the entire city who was moving apartmentshad to move on May […]

  18. Vincent Principale Says:

    An Old saying says,
    “when you leave New York City, you ain’t going no where!”

  19. History Lessons: From colonial times to World War… – insiderater.com Says:

    […] From colonial times to World War II, the city played host to a curious tradition when everyone in the city moved on May 1. That’s right; May Day used to be one massively congested, sweeping shift across the entire city. Apartment Therapy writes, “As stressful as this process may sound, moving day was also looked upon as a kind of exciting holiday; children often had the day off from school. And some households were luckier than others—bachelors were the envy of all men because moving their few possessions was so simple.” Lugging a family’s-worth of things around the city is still no picnic, so at least a few things haven’t changed. [AT via ENY] […]

  20. 60 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About New York City | Nesara Network Says:

    […] outside of Israel.7. Up until World War II, everyone in the entire city who was moving apartments had to move on May 1. en.wikipedia.org 8. The city of New York will pay fora one-way plane ticket for any […]

  21. 60 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About New York City - WikiGag Says:

    […] outside of Israel. 7. Up until World War II, everyone in the entire city who was moving apartmentshad to move on May […]

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