New Yorkers have no problem converting just about any space into a usable one. A closet can become a nursery nook or home office. And a 1-bedroom can be transformed to have 2, or even 3, bedrooms. So, yes, many residents live in basement spaces. But basement apartments have both pros and cons. 

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Lower rents and private entrances can make these spaces more appealing. However, as New Yorkers tragically saw during the catastrophic flooding of Hurricane Ida, subterranean spaces can be risky. It’s essential to know what constitutes a legal basement abode. To be legit, half of the height of the apartment must be above the street level. Requirements for single-family buildings with basement apartments start with the most crucial: a window in every room. They must also have ceilings at least seven feet high, and walls that are both damp-proof and waterproof. Also important to know: Basement apartments in two-family homes cannot legally be rented unless the building procures a new certificate of occupancy listing it as a multiple dwelling.

Not too long ago, the city unveiled a pilot program for building owners that provides funds for basement apartment conversions. While the budget was scaled back recently because of COVID-19, there might be more opportunities to rent a basement abode soon. But should you? Here’s what you need to know.

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The Pros and Cons of Renting a Basement Apartment in NYC

There are lots of factors to consider, but obviously, safety must always come first.

Pros of Basement Apartments

  • Get more privacy: Many basement apartments have their own private entrance. This feature was particularly in demand at the height of the pandemic, when people wanted to minimize contact with neighbors and public touch points. (Think door handles, handrails, and elevator buttons.)
  • Save on rent: Basement-level units are typically cheaper than similar units on higher floors.
  • Lower cooling costs: Basement apartments are also usually a few degrees cooler than the rest of the building. That can lower your electricity bill during AC season.

Cons of Basement Apartments

  • Flooding is possible: Basement apartments are in more danger of flooding during a massive storm, as was tragically seen during Hurricane Ida. Consider the exit points and windows of the unit very carefully. 
  • Security is more of an issue: Being at street level makes a basement apartment slightly more susceptible to burglaries. So, make sure you keep doors and windows locked and that the lighting in front of the building is bright. 
  • Space can feel cramped and dark: In some apartments, the ceilings may be lower than the units on the upper floors. Also, basement spaces often don’t receive much natural light. 
  • Rodents and bugs could be more common: Make sure the building has regular pest control. And note where the garbage is kept in relation to the apartment — if it’s too close, it might be a deal-breaker. 
  • Noise could be a concern: A street-level apartment could be noisier than those on upper levels. But thick curtains and reinforced windows can help muffle any outside sound.

Whether you’re looking to rent or to buyfind your next NYC apartment on StreetEasy.