Residence districts are the most common zoning districts in New York City, accounting for about 75 percent of the city’s zoned land area. These districts accommodate an extraordinary variety of residential building forms - ranging from the single-family homes set amid wide lawns on the city’s outskirts to the soaring towers of Manhattan.
To regulate such diversity, the Zoning Resolution designates 10 basic residence districts - R1 through R10. The numbers refer to permitted bulk and density (with R1 having the lowest density and R10 the highest) and other controls such as required parking. A second letter or number in some districts signifies additional controls. Unless otherwise stated, the regulations for each district apply to all subcategories within that district. regulations for the R4 district, for example, encompass R4-1, R4A and R4B districts, except where specific differences are noted.
Residences are permitted in all commercial districts except C7 and C8. Certain higher-density commercial districts mapped primarily in Manhattan are, in fact, substantially residential in character. In applicable commercial districts, the size of a residential building or the residential portion of a mixed building is governed by the bulk provisions of a specified equivalent residential district. For example, R6 is the residential district equivalent of C4-2 and C4-3 districts.
All residence districts permit most community facilities, such as schools, houses of worship and medical facilities. In certain districts, the maximum permitted floor area ratio (FAR) for community facilities exceeds the maximum permitted FAR for residential uses in order to accommodate needed services, such as medical centers or schools. In districts limited to one- and two-family homes, however, certain facilities are not permitted or are restricted in size.
For detailed information, and a comparison of district requirements, open the Residence Districts Zoning Data Tables.
Lower-density residence districts are usually found far from central business districts in areas with limited access to mass transit. These areas are characterized by low building heights, landscaped yards and high automobile ownership. Some lower-density neighborhoods are comprised entirely of single-family detached homes on large lots, others have one- and two-family detached homes on smaller lots, and still other neighborhoods have detached, semi-detached and attached buildings all mixed together.
Detached and semi-detached buildings typically accommodate either a single family or two families in separate dwelling units. Attached buildings may house one, two or more families. R1 and R2 districts allow only detached single-family residences. R3A, R3X, R4A and R5A districts allow only detached single- and two-family residences.R3-1 and R4-1 districts permit both detached and semi-detached one- and two-family houses. R4B districts also permit attached rowhouses limited to one and two families. In addition, zero lot line buildings are permitted in R3A, R4-1, R4B, R5B and R5D districts. R3-2, R4, R5, R5B and R5D districts are general residence districts that permit all housing types and are distinguished by differing bulk and density, height and setback, lot coverage or open space, and parking requirements.
Since 1989, R3, R4 and R5 districts with an A, B, D, X or 1 suffix have been created or revised as contextual districts to prevent the out-of-scale development that can blur distinctions among residence districts and alter the character of the city’s traditional low-rise neighborhoods. The regulations for these new and revised districts aim to preserve neighborhood scale by reflecting bulk distinctions, building configurations and established lot sizes of many residential neighborhoods.
A maximum height limit is established for every building in an R3, R4 and R5 district, including the traditional low-rise rowhouse districts (R4B and R5B). The familiar roof line of districts characterized by pitched roofs (R2X, R3, R4, R4-1 and R4A) is encouraged by establishing a maximum perimeter wall height, above which pitched roofs or setbacks are required. An increase in floor area (attic allowance) is permitted for space beneath a pitched roof. Front yard planting is required in all lower density districts, and more on-street parking is ensured by controlling the location and dimensions of driveways and curb cuts.
Some R1, R2, R3, R4-1, R4A and C3A districts are designated as Lower Density Growth Management Areas (LDGMA), where residential developments are required to provide more parking spaces, larger yards and more open space. Designated areas include all such zoning districts in Staten Island and in Bronx Community District 10, as well as all developments accessed by private roads in R1 through R5 and C3A districts. C1, C2 and C4 districts in Staten Island are also designated areas.
Moderate- and higher-density residence districts are generally found close to central and regional business districts and are usually mapped in proximity to mass transit. These areas are characterized by bulkier buildings, a greater range of building heights and less automobile ownership than lower-density areas. Like lower-density residence districts, however, the character of these neighborhoods varies widely. Some are defined entirely by rowhouses, others by low apartment houses or high-rise buildings and still others by a mixture of all building types.
Moderate- and higher-density residential districts are broadly characterized as either contextual or non-contextual.
Non-contextual districts are generally mapped where there is a diverse mix of building types and no predominant context. R6, R7-1, R7-2, R8, R9 and R10 are non-contextual districts. The bulk regulations for these districts, introduced in 1961, encourage the development of buildings without height limits set back from the street and surrounded by open space. The building form is a product of the “tower-in-the-park” vision of urban planning popular in the 1950s.
In R6 through R9 districts, the bulk regulations are known as height factor regulations, where the size of a building is determined by a complex set of rules involving the interrelationship between a range of height factors, floor area ratios and open space ratios. Instead of a single floor area ratio for each district, higher floor area ratios are allowed for tall buildings on lots where large areas of open space can be provided. Lower floor area ratios are allowed on smaller lots where less open space is possible. In general, the larger the size of the lot, the taller the building permitted.
In R10 districts there are no height factors or open space ratios. Each zoning lot, regardless of its size, has a floor area ratio of 10.0. Open space is controlled by a lot coverage requirement.
There are no height limits for non-contextual buildings in R6 through R10 non-contextual districts. Instead, a building is not allowed to penetrate a sky exposure plane, which slopes inwards from a specified base height above the street line. Therefore, the further a building is set back from the street line, the taller it can be.
In R9 and R10 districts, as well as commercial districts with an R9 or R10 residential district equivalent, developers may choose to build pursuant to tower regulations, which allow a building to penetrate a sky exposure plane. Buildings of great height are possible if built as towers. In response to concerns of excessive tower height in predominantly residential areas, tower-on-a-base regulations were introduced in 1994. All residential towers on wide streets in R9 and R10 districts, and C1 and C2 districts with an R9 or R10 residential district equivalent, must be built above a building base of between five and eight stories that is built at the street line. Special floor area rules ensure that the height of the towers does not exceed approximately 35 stories.
To encourage an alternative to both height factor buildings and tower buildings, the Quality Housing Program was introduced in the 1980’s and is allowed to be used as an option instead of height factor or tower regulations in any R6 through R10 non-contextual district. The Quality Housing bulk regulations allow higher lot coverage, and in many instances greater FAR in exchange for height limits that are often more compatible with the surrounding context.
Contextual districts are designed to maintain the scale and form of the city’s traditional moderate- and higher-density neighborhoods. These districts, which have an A, B, D or X letter suffix (R6A, R6B, R7A, R7B, R7D, R7X, R8A, R8B, R8X, R9A, R9D, R9X, R10A and R10X) are mapped where buildings of similar size and shape form a strong neighborhood context, or where redevelopment would create a uniform context. The bulk regulations for these districts are known as Quality Housing regulations.
Created in the 1980’s to promote high-quality housing harmonious with its neighbors, the Quality Housing Program was a response to concerns that height factor buildings were often out-of-scale with the surrounding neighborhood. The program assigns a single floor area ratio to each district, and includes bulk regulations that typically produce buildings that are shorter and have higher lot coverage than height factor buildings. Height limits, rules for the placement of the street wall of a building in relation to neighboring buildings, and rules governing the minimum and maximum height of a street wall are among the contextual regulations that promote the development of buildings that are compatible with their surroundings. Ground level setbacks in front of a building must be planted and parking spaces must be located in an underground garage or behind or to the side of a building – never in front of the building. Because less open space is available for parking, slightly less parking is required than for height factor developments.
The Quality Housing Program also establishes a set of rules that includes minimum apartment sizes, recreation space requirements and incentives for developers to provide amenities such as laundry rooms and daylight in corridors. All of the Quality Housing Program rules and regulations are mandatory in contextual R6 through R10 districts. Since the 1980’s, hundreds of areas throughout the city have been rezoned as contextual districts.
In non-contextual R6 through R10 districts, developers may choose the optional Quality Housing Program instead of height factor or tower regulations. For example, on a wide street in an R6 district outside of Manhattan, a developer may choose to build under the optional R6 bulk regulations (which are the same as those for a contextual R6A district). In general, the regulations allow moderately larger but lower buildings set at or near the street line, with more apartments than might be achievable under non-contextual regulations, as a way of encouraging the mid-rise apartment buildings that reflect the traditional scale of many neighborhoods. Although higher lot coverage and, often, greater FAR can be achieved in exchange for height limits, sometimes height factor regulations may be preferable because the surrounding blocks do not have a consistent character or because the views attainable by a taller building outweigh the advantages of greater bulk. Developers must determine which of the two sets of regulations is more appropriate for any given site but cannot mix and match the two on the same zoning lot. The taller heights permitted for height factor buildings, for example, cannot be combined with the higher lot coverage permitted for Quality Housing buildings.
R7-3 and R9-1 districts, where special bulk, height and setback provisions apply, may be mapped only within waterfront areas and certain special purpose districts. R7-3 is mapped within the Special Hunters Point District and along the Williamsburg waterfront.
R10H, a district allowing transient hotels by special permit in addition to residential and community facility uses, is mapped only along Central Park South, and Fifth Avenue between East 59th and East 61st Streets in Manhattan.