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The Legality of New York City Basement Rentals

NYC requirements for basement rentals
In New York City, basements aren’t the same as cellars when it comes to apartment rentals.

Basement Rentals in New York—Legal or Illegal?

Certain basement rentals in New York City are legal, while others are not. First and foremost, the subterranean space must be a basement, not a cellar. According to New York City law, the two words are not, in fact, synonyms.

  • A basement describes a partly submerged story with at least one-half of its height above curb level.
  • A cellar refers to an enclosed space with more than one-half its height below curb level.

New York City law prohibits the rental of cellars.

Legal Requirements for NYC Basement Rentals

Basements that meet certain requirements can be legally rented. General requirements for multiple dwellings, as outlined under the New York City Housing Maintenance Code, include the following:

  • The ceiling height meets minimum requirements, depending on when the building was constructed.
  • Lighting, ventilation, sanitation and egress meet NYC Department of Building requirements.
  • Walls and ceilings are built of a light-colored material or are painted white, or some other light color.
  • Walls must be damp- and water-proofed if the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) determines that subsoil conditions require such treatment.
  • The space needs to comply with all other NYC requirements for dwellings not located in the cellar or basement, in addition to more restrictive standards that apply to these spaces.

Building owners of a two-family dwelling who decide to rent a basement apartment need to file for a new certificate of occupancy. The addition of a basement dwelling changes the status from a two-family building to a multiple dwelling (three-family or more).

In addition, property owners who convert basements into apartments should contact their insurance partner to ensure they have the right coverage for their needs.

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If you have specific questions about requirements for renting basement apartments, contact the New York City Department of Buildings or consult the New York City Housing Maintenance Code. For insurance-related questions concerning your property, call us at 877-576-5200 or send us an email.

This Post Has 30 Comments

    1. Hi, Elisa. As a rule, New York City limits each apartment to one kitchen. You should contact your local DOB borough office or a building code consultant to discuss the specifics of your situation. Good luck!

    1. Hi, Savanna. Utilities vary from apartment building to apartment building. The lease should indicate which, if any, utilities are included with rent.

  1. I have a friend that is renting a 2 bedroom with access to the basmennt. However she turned the basemment into a playroom and a bedroom. Is this legal? The neighbors said that she has to remove the bedroom. But she has a son on the spetrum and has him comfortable with the set up. Can the landlord make this an issue? It has been nearly 4 years since she rented her apartment.

    1. Hi, Christina. Thank you for reading. Unfortunately, this sounds like an issue that requires a real estate attorney. Best of luck to your friend.

  2. someone reported my basement for rent, it is not. do i need to allow inspectors access to my home? or should they get a warrant?
    the process is insane, any neighbor or person with a grudge can report you without any accountability.

    1. Hi, Josh. I’m sorry to hear about your situation. We aren’t attorneys and cannot advise on the matter. Good luck.

    1. Assuming that you meet all code requirements, and depending on the specifics of your property, you may need to file a new Certificate of Occupancy. If you work with an architect to design the basement apartment, that professional can likely handle the CO requirement. You may also want to contact a code consulting firm. I hope this answers your question. Best of luck!

    1. Hi, Jasmine. New York City landlords have to provide heat. That said, you would need to contact an attorney regarding your specific situation.

      1. Your best bet will be to contact your local DOB borough office. The DOB’s guide on Certificates of Occupancy recommends that you consult with an engineer or architect if you need an amended CO. Certain applications must be submitted by a registered design professional, either a registered architect or professional engineer.

    1. Provided that the basement is a legal dwelling, there shouldn’t be any age restrictions. You might want to confirm with the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development.

  3. Hey good evening my name is Issam and I was wondering if it’s possible to legalize my basement for a living. The basement has an entrance, exist, ventilation, light, and sanitation also it’s fifty percent above street level from the back yard and thanks

    1. So far, it sounds like your space is on the right track. You should contact your local borough office of HPD to get answers concerning your specific property.

  4. Hi,

    The basement room in my apartment has only a small egress window near the ceiling and a door that leads to a dead end (laundry). My roommate hasn’t been able to live in it because of its size and so I was wondering if I could ask my management company for rent reduction as we are currently paying an exorbitant price for a supposed 4 bedroom apartment.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. What you describe sounds like a private matter between you and your landlord/management company. We provide insurance services and guidance, not negotiation advice. You might want to consult an attorney. Good luck.

  5. Hi, I’m a landlord that will like to live in my basement. Is that against the rules? It will be me and my sister who is 22

    1. A basement space would still need to meet the requirements set by the HPD. Cellars in a one- or two-family dwelling can be legally occupied by current household members, but under certain limited and specific conditions. For instance, they can’t be used as primary sleeping quarters or cooking facilities.

  6. Where is the regulation that says a cellar cannot be used as primary sleeping quarters? If there is enough space in the apt (80 sq. Ft. Per person), does the landlord have a say in what space is used for what?

    1. Are you talking about a cellar or a basement? Cellars have less than one-half their height above curb level. If they have windows, those windows are typically too small for an adult to fit through, which would not meet minimum requirements for egress. The DOB publishes an FAQ document that specifically states, “Cellar rooms CANNOT be lawfully used for sleeping, eating, or primary cooking facilities by any member of the family or families who occupy a one- or two-family dwelling.” You may want to consult a code specialist or contact the DOB for the code section and paragraph.

  7. can a basement be rented out in a 3 family home? HPD wants to evict everyone from the basement and says it is illegal but I thought this only applied to two family homes? What am I missing here? How does one go about getting approval for the basement to become a place of residence?

    1. This is an insurance site, and we provide information for landlords and building owners as a courtesy. For your specific question, you should contact a code consultant or a registered design professional for assistance.

  8. What about a Duplex? – What if half the apartment is in the cellar. Is that illegal in NYC?

    2 Bedrooms on the ground floor and 2 bedrooms in the cellar

    1. Thank you for your question. According to the NYC HPD website, cellars cannot be used for sleeping. If the space is actually a basement, with at least one-half of its height above curb level, it can be occupied if it meets the conditions outlined in the article.

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