City puts $14B price tag on rectifying illegal basement apartments

Estimated 50K vulnerable units in the Big Apple

Mayor Eric Adams (Getty)
Mayor Eric Adams (Getty)

Getting illegal basement apartments up to code is going to run up more than the Big Apple a large chunk of change.

City Hall estimated it would take $13.7 billion to get the roughly 50,000 units up to code, the New York Post reported. The price tag is part of a draft report making its way to the federal government for a $188 million aid package after Hurricane Ida killed at least 13 people and sparked fresh concerns over basement units.

The cost was tabulated using data from a pilot program launched by previous mayor Bill de Blasio to legalize underground apartments in East New York. That program has moved slowly, as the city said only six units in the neighborhood have either started or completed renovations, against 8,000 units that may have qualified for the program.

Mayor Eric Adams supported the legalization of basement apartments to help make them safer. The estimated cost to bring each unit up to code ranges from $275,000 to $375,000 each.

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In addition to providing the first price tag on bringing homes up to code, the report said officials were looking to spend $400,000 on studying conversions before expanding the pilot program.

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“[T]he process of bringing a basement apartment into safe and legal use is too difficult and expensive for many homeowners who could benefit from legally renting out a secondary unit in their home,” the report said.

Hurricane Ida set off a reckoning for real estate and political players after it struck one year ago. Torrential rains flooded many underground apartments, particularly in Queens, resulting in 13 deaths across the city, including 11 who drowned in basement units.

Since then, the city has been seeking ways to make those units safer by regulating them. Various attempts by both the city and the state have failed, though, leaving the apartments as vulnerable as they were a year ago.

City comptroller Brad Lander last week proposed the “Basement Resident Protection Law,” which would establish a city board to assess flood and fire risk for existing basement apartments. The program would follow the state’s Loft Law and temporarily legalize basement units as a pth to bring them up to code.

The Pratt Center estimated between 300,000 to 500,000 families living in basements and cellars across the city.

— Holden Walter-Warner