Basement Apartment Legalization

"Making Room...At Home" - exploring ways to make it feasible for more homeowners to rent out a safe and lawful apartment in the basement of their homes.

One of simplest ways that New York City can Make Room – especially for our newest populations – is to allow and encourage homeowners to turn their basements into legal and safe apartments. Renting illegal spaces has become common in many areas of the city, especially in neighborhoods with large concentrations of low and moderate income immigrant communities.  The widespread unregulated market offers no legal security to tenants, puts tenant, owners, and firefighters in physical danger, and cannot be eradicated through enforcement alone. A program to create safe and legal basement apartments would protect tenants and owners who are currently operating illegally and informally. And it add to the stock of basic attainable housing – adding new safe options for our households.

It is possible for a landlord/owner to legalize a basement apartment today; however, there are three major barriers that make this difficult – often impossible:

1) the laws and codes that relate to making a basement apartment safe and legal are complicated and extensive;
2) the process is protracted;
3) the costs are prohibitively high.

Because of this, problem-solving on the topic of illegal basements often gets stuck.

Our goal for this project is to provide some new strategies that could improve fire safety in residential buildings; set up a fresh foundation for the discussion about the legalization of basement apartments; and to provide technical advice to the administration to guide them through this multi-faceted and thorny endeavor.

  • “Making Room”: Why Should We Care?

    By Jerilyn Perine and Sarah Watson

    One of the many ironies of life in New York City is that, in a place where people are obsessed with real estate, housing, and the ensuing discussions about what people have, who has a good deal, and what they pay for it, there is little discussion or even awareness of New York City’s housing standards. And yet it is housing standards that largely determine who lives where and how much they pay for it. These standards implicitly encourage the construction of larger units rather than small ones, make it illegal for more than three unrelated adults to live together, make outlaws of extended families living in basements of small homes, and permit homeless single adults to sleep in doorways, but not in lodging houses or Single Room Occupancy units (SROs), both of which have been outlawed.

    The existence of housing standards raises two key questions.

    Read more