How to Convert a Basement Into a Rental Unit or Legalize an Existing Basement Unit

Converting a basement into a rental unit can bring in extra income and increase your property value. But how do you know if you can convert your basement or if your existing basement rental unit was converted legally?
If you are in the market for a property with the goal of rehabbing the basement into a rental unit, make sure you only look at properties with real basements, NOT cellars. For example, in New York City the definition of a basement is if the space under your property is 50 percent ABOVE curb level, has windows large enough to climb out of, and can support a three-piece bathroom (toilet, sink, and tub).
You also need to be sure that the basement has it's own exit or that you can safely construct an legal exit. A great way to know if you can do this is to hire a permit expediter to look at any prospective property you are interested in. For a reasonable fee, they can tell you exactly what you can or cannot do (according to building code) with a property BEFORE you buy.
Once you know that your basement can be legally converted into a rental unit, you need to start thinking about drawing up plans. Almost always, your construction plans need to be drafted by a licensed architect and then approved by your city's department of buildings (DOB). If you have already hired a permit expediter, this is a good thing. They also offer drafting services and will put you in contact with quality architects who can draw up plans within code for faster approval.
Now that your plans are drawn, they need to be submitted for approval by your department of buildings. Your permit expediter will also take care of this for you, usually much faster than you can, or your architect.
Construction begins! Your plans are approved and it's time to break ground. Your next step is to find a properly licensed contractor and plumber to complete your basement conversion. Your permit expediter will also be able to refer you the right people for the job. You definitely want a contractor that works above the minimum building code in your area and a plumber that properly opens and closes all job orders with the DOB. Since a permit expediter is the one pulling the permits and filing the job orders, it's their job to make sure everything is done up to par so you don't run into expensive violations down the road.
You may already own a building with a converted basement and are receiving violation letters for an illegal conversion that happened before you bought the property. This happens frequently, especially in vintage homes with basement renovations.
With older homes, contractors have been known to move support columns, water heaters, and boiler systems without permits. An expediting services company can help you stop those violation letters by checking on open job orders that were never closed with the DOB. They can also use their leverage with the DOB to file the right paperwork to get the violations removed or help you file the right permits and get the right construction completed in order to legalize your property.

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