Basements are often used as rental residences in densely populated urban areas. They are versatile and can be used as studio apartments to provide a private, secure place to live in. While this idea is excellent, many people are unknowingly renting illegal basements. Many basements are being used as living spaces against the law. The landlords and landladies rent these spaces out at rock bottom charges, which makes them attractive to low-income earners. Many of the tenants are usually unaware of the illegality until the shocking awakening when officials storm in and make arrests. The tenants involved pay fines and have to relocate. After in-depth research, we’ve found the fine for renting an illegal basement.
Fines for Having an illegal Basement
A landlord or landlady who operates an illegal basement can expect to pay a fine of $25,000. If the property is owned and operated by a corporation, the penalty rises to $50,000. The tenants can attract fines equal to or slightly above the amount of rent that they were paying. Living in an illegal basement apartment is dangerous and can attract hefty fines too!
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What Exactly Makes a Basement Apartment illegal?
There are some outstanding characteristics of an apartment that make it illegal to rent, and they include:
Inadequate window height
An illegal basement apartment has less than half of its window height above the street level. This is discernible from the street as well as the interior of the apartment. A window with such little open space limits the amount of natural light flowing into the room and makes ventilation very difficult. The window sill should be three feet above the floor, and the window needs to be 30 inches tall by 24 inches wide.
A single access point
An illegal basement apartment usually has only one access point. In most cases, this is the interior door leading to the main floor of the building. It does not have an egress door or a large shutter window for emergency exit. This is a massive risk to the wellbeing of its occupants.
Lack of a Certificate of Occupancy
A Certificate of Occupancy proves that a building has met all the codes and regulations required for it to be considered perfectly habitable. Every building constructed after April 1929 has a Certificate of Occupancy. You can search for this certificate online at the DOB’s Building Information System. If you find that a basement apartment does not have a Certificate of Occupancy, it is illegal to live in.
The ceiling is not high enough.
The ceiling of a safe, comfortable house should be equal to or more than seven-and-a-half feet high. Anything lower than that is illegal. If you see that the ceiling in a basement apartment is lower, then it is not fit to live in.
There aren’t multiple entries and exit points.
A basement apartment must be equipped with multiple paths of entry or exit. With numerous ways to get in or out, the occupants can escape to safety in case of an emergency such as a fire. The room should have large windows or a door leading out into the street or yard. If you note that a basement apartment does not have numerous entry or exit points, it is illegal.
Improper height above the curb
A basement apartment must have at least one-half of its the height above the curb level. If you note that it has less, the unit is illegal. It is worth noting that a residential property may only be lawfully rented out if it’s characteristics meet the standards of air, light, sanitation, and exits.
There are other red flags that indicate that a basement apartment is illegal. If you have to pass through an office or someone else’s space to get into your room, there’s a high chance that it is unlawful. Also, if the kitchen is not fully equipped, the apartment is most likely illegal. Should you find that electrical power is delivered through an extension, the room is illegal. Finally, if the door is locked using a padlock, then it is an illegal unit.
Basement bedroom requirements
The majority of basement apartments are used as bedrooms for a single person or a couple. With this in mind, it is important to know the characteristics of a legal basement bedroom so that you can make the right choice when searching for a basement apartment:
- A bedroom must be 80 square feet in size with no dimension measuring any less than 8 feet.
- The ceiling must be at least 7 feet in height.
- There must be at least one window or door that leads out into a yard, street, court, or garden.
- The basement bedroom cannot serve as a passage to any other room.
Risks that tenants face when renting an illegal basement apartment
If a tenant rents an illegal basement apartment, the initial impression can prove very attractive. For example, they may get a one-bedroom basement apartment featuring a large lounge and personal kitchen for rent of only $950 per month! While the price is handsome, such an illegal apartment can end up being a firetrap and go against the urban code of safety that usually requires the apartment to have half its height above the street level. Both of these conditions prove risky to the tenant’s wellbeing.
In addition to that, the tenant cannot call 311 for assistance if they notice a problem such as a leak, mold or bad electrical connections, That’s because they’ll be asked to move out for living in an illegal basement apartment and pay an additional fine. Therefore, it is a bad idea to live in an apartment of this type.
Basements can be transformed into bedrooms, lounges, or entire underground apartments. Unfortunately, many of these are illegal and attract fines of up to $25,000 for landlords. Always make sure that a basement apartment is legal before you rent it. We have described some guidelines to follow while househunting to identify illegal basement apartments and avoid them. Strive to rent legal apartments to enjoy safety and reliability!