Are New York basement apartments safe?

Who doesn’t want to live the New York City dream life? With rent prices going up, achieving that goal is getting harder and harder every day, however, there are cheaper options like basement apartments. No matter how nice that basement rental is, you’re probably going to hear a lot of bad things about it. The thing is, these units don’t exactly have an amazing reputation but that doesn’t mean the terrible rumors are true. 

Are basement apartments legal in New York?

This is a fairly common question and, honestly, not all basement units are legal. According to NYC’s government website, “New York State’s Multiple Dwelling Law (MDL), which is applicable to buildings with 3 or more units, prohibits any residential use in cellars but allows for residential use, including the creation of an ADU, in basements, as long as the unit complies with all other regulatory requirements”
To know if the rental unit you’re interested in is legal, check for the most vital things: it has to have more than one window big enough to use as an exit in case of an emergency, and the ceilings can’t be lower than 7ft. Remember, if you are living in an illegal unit and authorities find out, you might be asked to move out on the spot. 

Myths about basement apartments.

A lot of horror stories are being told about these downstairs apartments but they are not true and create a big stigma around renting such units. 

Myth Nº1: Floodings. Rumor has it, basement apartments are more likely to flood, regardless, this does not happen if the unit and the pipes are in good shape, and, if they aren’t, you should demand your landlord to take care of it, and, if they refuse, you can open a case against them. There are, however, some areas in the city that have a slightly higher chance of flooding, check out the following map to see if your ideal neighborhood is one of those. 

Myth Nº2: Rats and pests. Contrary to popular belief, these disliked guests are not likely to show up, especially if you keep your place clean. Of course, you might see bugs every once in a while, mainly during the summer, but that’s quite common, especially in a city.

Myth Nº3: Unsafe. A lot of people believe that having your windows so close to the street is an open invitation to burglars but, as someone who has lived in a basement unit for years, I can assure you, this is simply not true. Many of the rental units have bars in the windows, making it impossible to break in without drawing much attention. 

Pros and cons.

Like everything in life, living in a basement unit has a bright side and a not-so-bright side as well. Making a list of pros and cons can help make up your mind, that’s why I’ve put one up to assist you in your apartment-hunting process.

Rent is usually cheaper.Tend to have less sunlight
Units tend to be bigger.They can be noisy
They tend to have a private entranceCeilings are a bit lower compared to other units, making some feel claustrophobic.
Easy access. Basement apartments are most likely to only have a small set of stairs at the apartment’s entrance. Basement units are usually colder which is great during the summer but can be insufferable during the NYC winter. 

Apartment hunting is not getting easier and finding the place of your dreams can certainly be a difficult task, however, don’t let rumors and so-called horror stories fool you, basement apartments have a unique charm and can make a wonderful home.


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