Back to Articles

Local Law 49 - Basement Apartment Conversion Pilot Program

Select areas in Brooklyn may now be permitted to create lawful cellar apartments.

Cellar apartments have long been illegal in New York City due to the threat they pose to occupants. According to the HPD, potential dangers of illegal cellar and basement apartments include “carbon monoxide poisoning, inadequate light and ventilation, and inadequate egress in the event of a fire.”

Now, as part of the DOB and Department of Housing Preservation & Development's new pilot program, owners of one-, two- and multi-family dwellings in Cypress Hills and East New York (Community District 5) can apply to create legal, habitable cellar apartments.

This is huge for existing NYC multiple dwellings. While lawful basement apartments (typically 50% above grade) may be permitted under applicable NYC building codes when complying with light, air and life safety requirements, cellar apartments have historically been unable meet such requirements, and thus could never be lawfully rented or occupied.

Nonetheless, interest and demand in the “underground” housing market has been steadily growing for both renters and owners. According to New York Times real estate reporter Stefanos Chen:

“As prices continue to decline in the luxury market, developers are keen on maximizing every square foot, including below-grade space, while buyers seek out bargains in a supply-heavy market.”

The Basement Apartment Conversion Pilot Program (BACPP), created by Local Law 49 of 2019, allows slight amendments to NYC codes and laws, and includes extra safety measures to minimize the potential dangers and risks.

For example, while a typical habitable apartment requires a min. ceiling height of 7’6”, cellar apartments under this program can get away with a ceiling height of 7’ as long as they are also equipped with sprinkler protection, adequate egress, fire and carbon monoxide detection systems, and so on.

A few things to consider for eligibility – homeowners must:

  1. Own a one-, two-, or three-unit house in the area shaded in gray on the map below (blue-shaded area homes cannot qualify due to future flood risk)
  2. Occupy the home as primary residence, or at least 270 days a year.
  3. Comply with zoning laws, as required by this program.

If fully eligible, the homeowner will receive loan incentives, plus technical assistance by the city, to convert their basement or cellar with all the necessary safety precautions.

Future Implications

If the pilot program is successful and these sanctions open up across New York City, it provides a major opportunity for more affordable housing and for homeowners to increase the market value of their home and bring in potential income, without breaking the law or endangering renters.

A code consultant can be a huge help in this matter to navigate the laws and make sure your project is up to code and in compliance with these laws and regulations. Feel free to contact Outsource with further questions.[KO1]