Hannah Kirshner and her boyfriend, Hiroshi Kumagai, looked at several rental apartments last week. One was missing a couple of floorboards, and the empty spaces had been filled in with rocks. Another had a narrow spiral staircase leading to the bedroom, which the real estate agent repeatedly referred to as “death stairs.”
“It smells like pot,” Mr. Kumagai said upon entering that apartment. The agent agreed.
In the best of circumstances, trying to find a rental in New York City is like taking a very expensive and stressful trip to the dentist. But Ms. Kirshner and Mr. Kumagai are not in the best of circumstances: they are among the thousands of New Yorkers who were displaced by Hurricane Sandy, which filled their garden-level rental apartment in Red Hook, Brooklyn, with water just a few inches shy of the ceiling and rendered it uninhabitable for months.
So they are now searching for a new rental and facing a variety of challenges, including a budget strained by so much ruin, and competition from other renters displaced by the storm. But there is a special wrinkle in their quest for a new home.
“My chickens bring me a lot of joy, but I know we have to be realistic,” Ms. Kirshner said.
“But man,” she continued, “it would be nice” to be able to keep them.
Ms. Kirshner, 27, grew up on a farm in Washington State, home to goats, sheep and, yes, chickens, which when she was young she was charged with caring for. As an adult living in Brooklyn, she arranged to have chickens again, for the eggs, but mostly for fun. The four she currently has — Chicki Minaj, Hillary Chicken, Black Betty and Salt Hen Peppa, who is also called Cookie Dough — were born in New Jersey in May.
Those four ladies and their pale green coop were lodged just around the corner from Ms. Kirshner’s apartment, in an empty lot, leased by the owners of a nearby restaurant calledHome/Made.
“It was just sitting there,” said Leisah Swenson, one of the restaurant’s owners and a professed animal lover. “Why not have chickens?”
In advance of the storm, Ms. Kirshner locked her four chickens in an upper portion of their coop, about four feet off the ground, and then left the neighborhood to spend the night with relatives.
“On Monday night as I was getting the news that I’d lost pretty much all my belongings, I was also getting news that someone had heroically saved my chickens!” she said.
Ms. Swenson and her partner, Monica Byrne, who live above the restaurant, decided to huddle at home.
When the water began to rise, Ms. Byrne and Ms. Swenson headed over to the lot with the chickens and plunged into chest-deep water to save them.
“We had to,” Ms. Swenson said. “We’re big suckers.”
Ms. Swenson, Ms. Byrne and another neighbor yanked the chickens out of their coop, which was bobbing away at a 45-degree angle, and carried them by their feet into their apartment.
The chickens spent the next two days there, cohabitating just fine with the couple’s seven cats, until the coop could be cleaned and set safely upright. Once the area had dried out, a refugee chicken named Cindy appeared in a small cage next to Ms. Kirshner’s coop, dropped off by owners who needed help taking care of her. But by Saturday, Cindy had disappeared, and nobody seemed to know where she was. She remains at large.
“Here’s a chicken sitting on a coffee table,” Ms. Kirshner said, displaying a photo on her iPhone.
Their farmland guests, as you might imagine, make quite a mess, Ms. Swenson said.
She and Ms. Byrne, who have had their business for just over six years, did not have flood insurance, so they have pinned much of their hope for recovery on a group set up by local business owners, Restore Red Hook, which hopes to raise money to help restaurants and shops reopen. With the financial straits that lie ahead, they may be unable to keep the extra lot where the chickens live.
So Ms. Kirshner and Mr. Kumagai are searching for a place for themselves and for their feathered friends.
They hope to find an apartment nearby, so Mr. Kumagai, 39, an artist and a graphic designer, can bike to his studio. And it must have a functional kitchen so Ms. Kirshner, who recently started a recipe publication, Sweets and Bitters Quarterly, can test recipes.
For now, Ms. Kirshner is staying with family and Mr. Kumagai has been staying with friends or sleeping at his office. To accommodate the chickens, they would need a yard, or access to a community garden or a nearby lot where the coop can be parked.
While the couple understand they may have to say goodbye to their pets, they are still trying to get the word out through friends, through real estate agents and through Twitter. In any event, Ms. Kirshner says, the heroism of her neighbors (“I don’t know if I would have done that,” she acknowledged quietly) has helped her cope.
“It is going to be O.K.,” she said, because “amazing, hilarious things still happen.”