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.

At a time when new housing is urgently needed, 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 add to the stock of basic attainable housing thus creating new safe options for our households.

However, there are three major barriers that have made it nearly impossible for landlords/owners to legalize basement apartments today: 1)  the laws and codes that relate to making a basement apartment safe and legal are complicated and extensive 2) the process is protracted and 3) the costs are prohibitively high. As a result, 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.

Featured Post

  • “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.

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Hidden Housing: Basement Apartments

The Case for a Conversion Program for Basement Apartments in NYC

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At a time when new housing is urgently needed, this new CHPC study found that there are between 10,000 and 38,000 potential apartments that could be brought into safe and legal use in New York City without even changing the Zoning Resolution.

These thousands of apartments are in the basements of existing small homes, making them unusually advantageous. Basement conversions bring rental units to the market without having to acquire land. They add apartments without altering the size or shape of the building. They inherently rent for less than …

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All About Basements!

Can we boost our housing supply with basement apartments?


Join us at a launch breakfast for CHPC’s new study on BASEMENT APARTMENT LEGALIZATION to find out!

With very special guest MARY-ANNE BEDARD,
Housing Stability Policy & Strategic Investments of the City of Toronto

Join the Citizens Housing and Planning Council on Thursday February 16th for third installment of our Beds Books & Basements civic dialogue series.  CHPC and featured guest, Mary-Anne Bedard, will discuss the need for flexible housing typologies in our cities and consider opportunities and challenges that each city faces in developing one such type—basement apartment conversions …

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Short film on the Making Room exhibition

Film-maker Joanna Arnow has made this incredible short film on last year’s Making Room exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York. Watch and enjoy!

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Steering the New Course: policy ideas for the new administration


CHPC’s Ideas for Housing and Land Use Policy in New York City

With so much political change in New York this year, we felt that it was important to set out our suggestions and priorities for housing and land use policy based on all of CHPC’s work over recent years. We always aim to be a resource for decision-makers inside and outside of government – to help them to understand NYC’s most pressing housing and neighborhood issues, think through the real impact of policy on the three-dimensional built environment, and map out realistic policy steps for …

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