Need Insurance In New York City? Ask A New Yorker
Gotham Brokerage’s Jeff Schneider knows Gotham better than Batman.
When it comes to the perils of living in New York City, Jeff Schneider has seen it all. The second-generation owner of Gotham Brokerage, a Manhattan-based renter’s, co-op, and condo insurance company based in New York’s financial district has been helping New Yorkers take care of their homes for four decades. The brokerage was founded by Schneider’s father in 1964. The younger Schneider joined the family business in 1982 and the lifelong New Yorker watched as the city transformed from a metropolis on the brink of bankruptcy to its shiny current state from his office on Maiden Lane.
That local commitment has given Gotham Brokerage an advantage over tech-oriented upstarts with slick branding and mobile apps. “Some apps do a better job than others,” Schneider said. “But some of them are still sort of adapting a nationwide questionnaire and they're asking you, ‘When was your boiler replaced? Do you have a sump pump?’ And those questions just aren't really relevant for New York.”
Instead, Gotham Brokerage has focused on leveraging its learned experience. His firm has been developing a granular understanding of what effects renters over the last half century, and they can give you the rundown on the risks associated with everything from renovating a Brooklyn brownstone to remodeling a Mott Haven kitchen. “Because of the experience that people in my office have had in the area, if you're looking for more in-depth information about values, about rebuilding costs, we're able to do that,” says Schneider.
A lot has changed in New York since Schneider started selling insurance policies, but he still sees a lot of the same issues crop up now as he did in the 80s. New arrivals always overestimate their ability to navigate New York’s labyrinthine bureaucracy for the first time. Schneider is more than happy to give those folks a dose of reality. “If you're moving into a place and you're telling me you're doing a gut renovation and you plan to have it wrapped up in three months,” he said. “I'm saying you'll be lucky to have the approval back in three months.”
Renting an apartment in New York City also used to come with a laundry list of potential hazards. There were the constant break-ins, arson flare ups, shoddy repairs that were just waiting to come crumbling down at the slightest provocation. The city has changed a lot in the past few decades, but there’s one problem that has still torpedoed New York City’s apartment dwellers after all these years: Water.
“It might be from your upstairs neighbor or the dishwasher hose snapping. Or it might be from people having a romantic interlude in the shower and leaving the water on—or somebody’s kid flushing a bunch of tennis balls down the toilet,” says Schneider.
Those sorts of stories keep Schneider smiling over all these years. When I ask if he has any good stories from his decades insuring a city of 8 million that is constantly shifting, he says that, while he can’t discuss specific cases, the problems he deals with haven’t changed too much in the last 30-plus years, especially when it comes to an age old nemesis. “The days of forgetting to lock your car and finding your radio torn out are long gone,” says Schneider. “But the water keeps on coming.”
T.M. Brown is a journalist based in Brooklyn. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Fast Company, Deadspin, the Village Voice, and others.