The Real Deal New York

Queens overrun with illegal basement apartments

November 23, 2013 04:00PM

 New York City’s chronic housing shortage has led to a vast network of illegal basement homes in the Ozone Park section of Queens and beyond. And while some condemn the potentially hazardous practice, others are calling for legalization of basement units as a means to increase housing inventory.

Currently, homeowners cannot rent out units that are more than one-half their height below curb level. However, the practice of renting out subterranean apartments has become so rampant that it is hard to identify homes without basement units in some Queens neighborhoods, according to Chhaya Community Development, which works with South Asian families in Queens.

Most of these basement units are renting for around $900 a month to individuals and families that have been priced out of the more traditional city dwellings. And the demand for these cheap units has driven real estate agents to routinely market basement apartments off the books, according to Staten Island Advance.

But rather than condemn the practice, Seema Agnani, Chhaya’s executive director argues: “Anything that increases supply is really good and anything that allows homeowners to make better use of the housing that they own themselves, for which they find willing tenants, as long as it’s safe, really should be encouraged.” [Staten Island Advance]Christopher Cameron

  • j met

    “Currently, homeowners cannot rent out units that are more than one-half their height below curb level. ”
    Sublevel construction more then 1/2 below curb level are call CELLARS. There are many reasons why Cellars cannot be made into apartments, not the least of which is it is virtually impossible to have a bedroom window that you are capable of egressing thru in case of a fire. This is a requirement for the fire department and public saftey.
    BTW, Basement apartments are legal, as long as they are filed as such with the Department of Buildings. Which of course costs money (and in some cases alot of money if the layout change involves sprinklers), and are subject to a zoning review.
    So Basement Apartments can be legal, Cellar Apartments are always illegal in NYC.

    • CleanUpJamaicaQueensNY

      But the problem with even legal basement apartments in Queens and especially Jamaica and South Ozone, is that most end up skirting laws just like everything else in this area and DOB drags their feet on the matter or just ignores it. This happens all the time with so-called legal basement apartments, because face it what kind of people actually want to live in some basement and exactly who are some of the landlords that own these places.

      • j met

        If the zoning checks out, that they are able to add habitable space to the basement in an old building (I say old building because, in the past you were able to have unfinished basement space not count as floor area – and against your FAR) – then the DOB has issued a judgement saying the neighboorhood and surrounding streets can support the extra apartments. From my standpoint, when you buy a house you also buy the developement rights to that house.
        If the work wasn’t filed and it wouldn’t be legal if they filed it. Then yes I have a major issue with it. Because as a person dipping thier toes into the housing market – stuff like that drives up the prices of housing past what can be legally be supported. If the work puts the size of the building is above the developement rights of the building there is something really wrong with that.

  • CleanUpJamaicaQueensNY

    NO NO NO, we do not need basement apartments made legal in Queens. The city has a hard enough time taking care of the illegal basement apartments. Do you realize what would happen if they are made legal, the owners will surely skirt issues as well. No the problem is way too many expensive condos being built all over and not enough affordable apartments. Besides basement apartments, especially illegal ones just overcrowd a community and put a big strain on the infrastructure: garbage, transportation, parking ,etc. Parts of Queens were not made to handle all this extra people like Manhattan.

    Sure just make Queens more undesirable.

  • MO

    Illegal apartments can be death traps. In 2009, three men were killed in a Queens fire. And, the Red Cross gets asked to shelter people vacated from illegal apartments–20 times in November alone.

  • Me

    Basement apartments and crash pads (apts. w/ bunk beds for pilots & flight attendants) are all over the neighborhoods surrounding LGA & JFK. It is so hard to find affordable hounding.