In this rental market, living on the cheap in an underground basement apartment seems preferable to shelling out big Gs for a place in Boerum Hill, or sharing a bed with a himalayan cat-loving Fred Astaire aspirant. Sadly, many of these subterranean living spaces are illegal, since it’s against city housing code to rent out an apartment that’s more than 50 percent “below grade.” But Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer wants to help you get your hands on an awesome, cheap, underground lair: he says it’s time for these basement apartments to come “out of the shadows”, and he’s pushing for the city to legitimize them.
These underground living spaces sound like great deals; Crain’s lists a one-bed with a living room, bathroom and kitchen in Astoria at $900-a-month. In addition to drawing in poor broke youngsters like us, basement apartments are popular among immigrants and other city newcomers. And New York wouldn’t be the first to legitimize below-grade dwellings, since Orlando, Florida and Santa Cruz, California have recently altered their safety codes to accommodate offbeat apartments. Stringer says reworking the codes will help spur the economy and put thousands more affordable housing units on the market, which sounds to us like a major win for all (though critics point out that, assuming most people rent out their basement apartments anyway, it won’t actually increase available housing, just available legal housing).
Experts estimate there are over 100,000 illegal basement spaces in use, and if Stringer has its way, about 35,000 could become legal soon. So keep that in mind before you renew your lease, though maybe wait until all those rats are gone before you start heading underground.