Living in a legal basement apartment no longer means what it did in the 1850s, or even the 1900s. Lots of apartment buildings, businesses and homes have basement space available that is often converted into livable space and rented out. Renting a basement apartment is a great alternative to paying a higher rent for a standard apartment unit or house, and it can also mean living without roommates for those who prefer to live alone.
It used to be that basement apartments were designated for the poor or disadvantaged. They were often illegal, extremely small units that the building superintendent used to generate extra income. Renters could typically plan on the units being poorly insulated, dimly lit, often without windows or proper ventilation and prone to pest problems. The noise level in a basement apartment was also louder due to noise from the outside world, generators, water heaters and furnaces located throughout the basement and, of course, the tenants above. Luckily, things have changed.
Today, basement apartments are in quite a bit better condition. Though starving artists, students and people who just want cheap rent favor basement units, they are now properly equipped to live in. They are typically fire protected all around (walls, ceiling, etc.), have proper ventilation as well as heating and cooling, and have windows and a separate entry for each unit. There are now minimum height and size regulations. They will have independent bathrooms, kitchens, living and eating areas separate from other units, though they may be arranged more like a studio apartment internally.
Basement apartments are smaller than the average unit. If you have lots of stuff, this may not be the best choice. It's possible that you may not have direct access to your unit and may have to use a stairwell, common entrance, or enter through the family's main door if you live in the basement of a house. Most basement units in buildings have few windows, and some look out onto sidewalks, which means less privacy, more outside noise, restricted lighting and potential thieves having direct access.
What obviously stands out about basement apartments is the lower rent. If you are required to pay your own utilities, due to being underground (and providing your unit is legally up to code), your heating and cooling bills will be less than average. Laundry rooms are usually situated in the basement, which is an added bonus. If you have your own separate entrance, it's certainly easier to come and go and have visitors.
Whether you're a student looking to room with fellow students or even a small family, basement apartments can typically house from two to four people comfortably. Units can range in size from mere hundreds of square feet to spanning the entire space of the floor above. This is especially common in a basement apartment of a house, or perhaps located beneath a business. If you reside in a family home basement, you may even get use of the floors above, driveway and/or garage, or yard. However, do not expect a patio or a balcony with a basement unit!
For safety reasons, verify that your basement apartment meets the local building and fire codes.
- Photo Credit Treehugger.com, Princeofpetworth.com, Canada.com, davdesign.com
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