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.