Is Your Basement Apartment Legal?

Is Your Basement Apartment Legal?
  • Opening Intro -

    You've poured tens of thousands of dollars into your basement, transferring it from a lifeless storage area into a viable rental space.

    With a new tenant in place, you're collecting money each month that helps you with your mortgage.

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Moreover, your home is now valued higher than before and would be an attractive investment for any buyer. Get within the law for your below ground apartment.

Legal Matters

Before you think of selling your home (and even now as you play the role of a landlord), there is one matter you may have overlooked: the legality of your basement. As a storage area or non-rental portion of your home, this basement apartment may be fine, but with a tenant in place your apartment could present a problem to your local governing authority.

That means contacting your local building department and determining what steps you need to take to make this apartment legal. Essentially, you’ll need to present them with information about your basement including its size, whether it has windows, and what doors there are for entry and exit to the rest of the house and to the street.

Building Department

Frankly, contacting your building department before you started your project would have been the proper step to take. That way you’d avoid running into conflict with your municipality, possibly risking fines and forcing your tenant to leave. However, you may be able to avoid problems by coming clean with your town and offering architect or contractor blueprints demonstrating that your home is in compliance with building codes.

In some jurisdictions, such as New York City, the city has much to say about illegal conversions, making a distinction between a basement and a cellar.

Basements v. Cellars

In NYC, a basement is described as “…a story partly below curb level but having at least one-half of its height above the curb level.” Basements can be lawfully rented in this city. A cellar is described as “…an enclosed space having more than one-half of its height below curb level.” Cellars, even converted units, cannot be legally rented out in New York.

A legal basement apartment in New York has several requirements. Your town may have similar requirements. For example, a minimum ceiling height of seven feet is required. Walls must be damp-proof and water-proof, every room must have at least one window, and there are requirements for minimum amounts of light, air, sanitation and egress.

Possible Eviction

If your apartment is illegal, then your city may force you to evict your tenant. Worse, you could face costly fines and lose thousands of dollars on your investment. Remedy this problem now to avoid a deepening crisis later.

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Categories: Basement

About Author

Matthew C. Keegan

Matt Keegan is a freelance writer and editor as well as publisher of "Auto Trends Magazine", an online publication. Matt covers campus, consumer, business and financial topics on various websites and weblogs, and has been published in the "Houston Chronicle", "Sam's Club Magazine" and "Wisconsin Golfer".