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As Rent Prices Peak, New Yorkers Turn to Basement Homes as Affordable Option

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By: Hellen Zaboulani

In search of affordable city rentals, New Yorkers find themselves living in basement homes.

As reported by the NY Post, as rental prices reach record highs, basement apartments are making their way back as a staple in affordable city living.  Though the underground homes often lack natural light, they can have their up sides too.  Aside from the affordability, and location, owners often renovate the pads and can offer extra amenities, better appliances, and lower utility bills.  Additionally, an added bonus of basement homes is the less crowded environment– something that has become much sought after due to the pandemic.  “A basement apartment allows for the least possible contact with other people,” said Compass broker Isaac Rosenberg. “Many people overlook basement apartments, but with prices in New York skyrocketing and the increase in creativity with the use of space, they are actually hidden gems!”

Official published reports say that over 150,000 people currently live in some 50,000 basement apartments across New York City.  That figure is said to be greatly underestimated by the existence of many more illegal basements, beneath townhouses or buildings that remain unaccounted for.

In Manhattan, overall median rent increased by 10.1 percent between July and October, or 20 percent since January.  The massive jump in rental prices is being blamed on inflation — the highest level since 1990, as per data compiled by Miller Samuel/ Douglas Elliman.

Interior designer Kevin Maberly recommends brightening a confined basement with the use of white or soft colors, while also adding personality to walls by hanging pictures, paintings or trinkets. “You can absolutely make a creative and aesthetic life in a basement apartment,” he said. “If the rooms are tiny, make those cozy and intimate. Try to utilize entire walls to get maximum advantage.”

Legal basement apartments actually have many requirements –including windows, minimum ceiling height of 7 feet, and minimum room sizes set by the housing maintenance code. The walls must also be as high as ground level and waterproofed if believed necessary by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.  Coupled with all the reasons cited above, basement apartments are starting to shed their bad name.  “I’m not sure we would have chosen this apartment if it didn’t offer the amenities,” said Caroline Caugliere, 28, who rented an apartment under a four-story residential building in Prospect Heights, and boasted about its dishwasher, in-unit washer/dryer and a large shower. “But it has really felt like a home in the past year we’ve lived here!”


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