Basements and cellars differ in their amount of height above curb level. A basement has at least one-half of its height above curb level, while a cellar has less than one-half of its height above curb level. Usually, if a cellar has any windows, the windows are too small for an adult to fit through.
Basements and cellars in residential properties of all sizes can NEVER be lawfully rented or occupied unless the conditions meet the minimum requirements for light, air, sanitation and egress, and have received approval by the Department of Buildings. You can check the Certificate of Occupancy on the DOB website to see if the basement you wish to rent is legal. DOB also posts Tips for Renters to help identify when an apartment is illegal.
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 illegal basement or cellar apartment.
Both HPD and DOB may inspect for illegal occupancy of basements or cellars. Each agency may issue violations of the Housing Maintenance Code or Environmental Control Board (ECB). If you receive an ECB violation for this condition, you must appear or respond to the violation or risk default penalties. For more information on violations, see Environmental Control Board webpage.