The garden apartment, or basement apartment, is identified with living quarters that are below ground. These apartments offer small windows, if any, and limited access to and from the outside. The dangers associated with basement apartments arise from legality, fire, flooding, and general safety issues. Use common sense and stay informed to protect yourself.
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Unscrupulous landlords will convert unfinished basements into apartments that are not suitable living quarters. Illegal apartments do not meet fire and building codes pertaining to gas lines, water and heating systems. Neighbors that identify the basement apartment as illegal will call for your eviction at any time, by notifying the landlord or law enforcement officials to remove you from the premises.
Fire, Smoke and Gas Inhalation
Legal basement apartments may catch fire with any more frequency than units that are above ground level. However, fire hazards are exacerbated by the limited access and closed floor plans that characterize basement apartments.
The basement apartment offers small windows and few available doors to the outside. These characteristics translate into limited escape routes, while making it difficult for fire and rescue personnel to enter the building during an emergency.
Basement apartments carry added dangers of severe complications, or even death, from smoke and gas inhalation. The Environmental Protection Agency identifies radon gas as radioactive material that is found within the ground. Behind cigarettes, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Basement apartments have elevated risks of exposure to radon because radon gas is much heavier than air, and tends to collect in low-lying areas.
Buildings that are located within floodplains and coastal communities are always at risk for seasonal flooding. Irrespective of geographic location, torrential rains may seep through cracks in the foundation and thawing pipes can burst to flood your basement apartment with water. Lower level apartments suffer water damage first, due to gravity, and the fact that rising heat may keep upper-level pipes from freezing.
The basement flooding could be a mixture of pure water, alongside raw waste from neighboring sewage lines.
Burglary and Home Invasion
Robbers often “case” a unit prior to breaking and entering. Casing refers to taking a basic inventory of valuables, and scheduling hours that the victim and potential witnesses are likely to be home. The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines home invasion as a type of burglary that occurs when residents are actually home.
Basement apartments are prime candidates for home invasion because of the ability to see into the unit from the outside, the ability to force entry from ground level and the relative seclusion of the interior that is hidden away from onlookers.
Home invasion is especially traumatic. The Department of Justice reports that 60 percent of rapes and 38 percent of assaults occur amidst home invasions.
Although basement apartments are usually cheaper than competitive rentals and condominiums, you should use common sense to determine whether these savings are worth the trouble. Avoid basement apartments that are located in coastal areas and flood plains. Further, your local government provides information pertaining to construction permits and building codes that are applicable to every apartment for your reference.
Radon testing kits are available at hardware and general merchandising stores. Use these kits to check the building grounds for toxic radon gas levels.
You should also contact your local police department for crime reports before you decide whether to move into a particular apartment. Preferably, your basement apartment will feature window bars; solid doors and heavy-duty locks to deter criminals.