Temporary Walls

New York City apartments’ rents have skyrocketed over the past few decades—a staggering 75% in the past 15 years.  Unless you’re a Wall Street banker, you’re going to need to get creative if you want to live in the Big Apple and afford the rent.  Many people who choose to get roommates to split the rent aren’t keen about sacrificing their privacy, though, and ask about creating extra rooms with temporary walls.  Here’s what you need to know about creating “new” rooms with temporary walls.

Definition

Temporary walls, otherwise known as “pressurized walls,” are made of solid materials and look indistinguishable from regular walls.  However, unlike real walls, they aren’t screwed into the floor or ceiling, so they can easily be removed without causing damage at the end of a lease.   Apartments that can accommodate pressurized walls are known as “flex apartments.”

Rules

Firstly, you need a building permit from the Department of Buildings (DOB) to install a temporary wall, just as you would if you were installing an actual wall.  While it’s true that many (if not most) temporary walls in New York apartments were installed without one, after two firefighters died as a result of illegal temporary walls in a Bronx apartment fire a few years ago, the DOB has cracked down hard on walls erected without a permit.

In order for a pressurized wall to be given the green light, the apartment has to meet a few criteria:

  • Windows.  Plan on leaving at least one window in each room.  Per the NYC Construction code, a room needs at minimum 1 window to be considered habitable.
  • Square footage.  Both rooms must be at least 80 square feet to be classified as bedrooms.
  • Fire safety.  Temporary walls can’t obstruct exit routes or ventilation or sprinkler systems.
  • Common areas.  A living room must remain even after the conversion.

If your proposed converted apartment meets all of the above criteria, you’ll need a contractor to draw up plans, which are then submitted to the DOB for approval and a work permit.   If you’ll be doing plumbing or electrical work as well, the DOB will require you obtain any and all additional permits as appropriate.