Illegal apartments are extremely common in New York City, especially in the outer boroughs. Although rents are often a good deal relative to NYC’s sky-high rents elsewhere, illegal apartments frequently have hazardous conditions that violate basic life safety standards set by the Department of Buildings. If the DOB discovers an apartment is illegal, both the renter and landlord will be in a tight spot. Renters face immediate eviction, and landlords can receive up to $25,000 in fines. Here are a few tips to figure out whether your apartment is fit to be rented.
1. The price seems like a steal. Know that saying, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”? Obviously, a legal apartment is going to command more on the rental market than an illegal one.
2. The apartment is in the basement or attic.
3. Utilities are included. Included utilities sound like a steal, but there’s an ulterior motive. Landlords who are illegally renting out a space don’t want your name on the utilities because that would be proof of exceeding the legal occupancy of the building.
4. There is no separate electrical gas or meter for your apartment. This is related to above.
5. Odd rent payment arrangement. Landlords may ask for month-to-month agreements, rent in cash, or otherwise refuse to draw up a lease.
6. Electricity via extension cord. Legally converted apartments are required to have full, proper electrical wiring and plumbing.
7. No mailing address. Illegal tenants are frequently asked to get a P.O. box elsewhere.
8. Rooms without windows or small windows. To be considered habitable, rooms must have a certain number of window area. If there are no windows or the windows are very small, it’s a guarantee that the apartment wasn’t properly converted.
9. Only one form of egress. Non-fireproofed buildings need at least two means of egress. However, illegally converted basement and attic apartments often only have one. Only having one exit is a hazard–what if that way out is blocked in the event of fire?
10. Odd bathroom or kitchen facilities, or no inside kitchen/bathroom at all. Big tip-off if the kitchen or bathroom facilities are arranged strangely (i.e., shower and toilet are in different rooms). Every apartment must have a kitchen and bathroom, so if yours is outside of your apartment or otherwise communal, that’s illegal.