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What is a Flex or Convertible Apartment?

You and your roommate are set on living Downtown, but everyone keeps telling you you'll never find a two-bedroom in your price range.

If you’re willing to get a little creative, you may be able to make unorthodox apartment space work. Welcome to the world of temporary walls.

Use a pressurized wall

What is exactly is a flex or pressurized wall? A pressurized wall is simply a temporary wall that can be installed to “create” an extra room – usually a bedroom. Pressurized walls are either built on site with 2x4s or built elsewhere and brought in.

You can use a pressurized wall to convert a common area – like a living room or dining room — into an additional bedroom. Or, convert a two-bedroom into a three-bedroom, or a three into a four and so on. For example, if you and your roommate are shopping for apartments, search for a large one-bedroom instead of two. Then, look at the floor plans. Do you see a living room or dining room in the layout? With some creativity and innovation, you can install a pressurized wall in the dining room or living room to create an additional bedroom. True, you will forego having a living room or dining room, but this is a common way to share space and save money.

 

Are pressurized walls legal?

Good question. Depending on who you ask or what apartment you rent, you can get different answers. Some buildings have code regulations that forbid the erection of pressurized walls due to structural issues within the building. Also, after a deadly apartment fire in an apartment with pressurized walls back in 2005, the city has cracked down on illegal pressurized walls. It is worth noting that even if a landlord permits you to build a pressurized wall, it is not necessarily legal. The only way for a pressurized wall to be truly legal is if you obtain permits from the NYC Department of Buildings to erect them. (Call 311 to get details on what’s needed to get a permit.)

Over the past few years, New York City officials have vigilantly worked to eliminate pressurized walls even in units where landlords granted permission to tenants to divide space, but did so without proper clearance from the Building Department. Architectural plans and permits are most often required.

However, tenants and landlords have continued to pursue this kind of space division solution, with and without permits, especially by contractors who claim they can comply with code requirements.

What is the cost?

You can hire a contractor to install a wall that uses the pressure from the floor and ceiling. In most cases, contractors in New York say the cost is anywhere from $800 to $2,000 to build a pressurized wall. Typically, these can be erected in a few hours with the help of companies in the city who specialize in building flex or pressurized walls.

Other temporary wall solutions

If your landlord or building codes prevent you from building a pressurized wall, there are alternative temporary wall solutions.

  • Space dividers: You can build a temporary wall that does not extend all the way to the ceiling and usually has a 12-inch gap at the top of the partition wall. This allows for airflow and does not rely on floor-to-ceiling pressure to hold the wall in place.
  • Bookshelves: You can also use bookshelves or other furniture to create some element of privacy necessary to partition another bedroom.

How to find flex or convertible apartments

Once you start searching online for NYC apartments for rent, you will occasionally see listings that announce, “Opportunity for flex 2 bed,” or 2 bedroom / flex 3 bedroom apartment.” This means that the “flex 2 bed” is really a one-bedroom that can be converted into a two-bedroom and the “flex 3 bedroom” is really a two-bedroom that can be converted into a three-bedroom. Just use the “Advanced Search” field on StreetEasy and enter “flex apartments” in the description field.

Here is the floor plan of a one-bedroom with a spacious living room that can be easily converted into a two-bedroom apartment:

ideal floor plan

Sure, you will lose the living room as your common space, but this is NY and you cut corners whenever you can.

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