Basements and cellars are very different spaces and have different legal uses. A basement is a story of a building partly below curb level but with at least one-half of its height above the curb level. A cellar is an enclosed space having more than one-half of its height below curb level. Basements and cellars of multiple dwellings may not be occupied unless the conditions meet the minimum requirements for light, air, sanitation, and egress, and have been approved by the Department of Buildings. Cellars in one- and two-family homes can never be lawfully rented or occupied for residential use. Basements in one- and two-family homes can never be lawfully rented or occupied for residential use unless the conditions have received approval by the Department of Buildings.
Owners with illegally converted basements and cellars may face civil and criminal penalties.
Occupants of illegal basement and cellar apartments face potential dangers such as carbon monoxide poisoning, inadequate light and ventilation, and inadequate egress in the event of a fire.
Occupants of illegal basement and cellar apartments may be ordered by the City to vacate or leave any such apartment.
For more information see our FAQs.