A shortage of affordable housing and changes in zoning laws make basement living a viable option for many. Basement apartments provide income for owners. Most are rented but in some locations, fully separated basement units can be purchased.
Basement apartment living is often a lifestyle choice. It is less expensive. It may be closer to work. Basement living may come with other perks like free parking, backyard access, and cheaper utilities.
Legal or Illegal Basement Suites
Basement apartment laws and regulations vary from state to state, city to city, and even neighborhood to neighborhood. Turning a basement into a legal apartment can be an involved and expensive project. Which is why many basement suites are illegal. Renters can be evicted from illegal suites by local authorities.
Legal basement apartments should have a certificate of occupancy. This certifies that it meets all local code requirements like egress, entrances, fire, and safety. Legal apartments are usually more expensive but provide more peace of mind, privacy, and comfort.
Pros and Cons of Basement Living
Basement living is not suitable for everyone but some people find it to be a very acceptable and viable option.
Some of the attractions of living in a basement apartment include:
- Cheaper. Can be significantly less expensive than main-floor rentals and some apartment buildings.
- Darker. Because they are at least partially underground and usually have fewer and smaller windows. Ideal for shift workers or anyone needing total darkness for sleep.
- Private. Usually offer more privacy than above-ground rentals. Unless they abut sidewalk areas where children play or party.
- Quieter. Basement apartments are usually at least 50% underground which provides great soundproofing.
- Larger. Basement apartments are often larger and roomier than suites in above-ground apartment buildings because they are the same size as the main floor.
Some of the cons are the same as some of the pros because basement living often comes down to personal preferences, tastes, and needs.
- Colder. Basements are almost always colder than main floors. Unless the basement apartment has a dedicated heating system, the thermostat is on the main floor.
- Darker. May not be ideal for anyone who suffers from seasonal affective disorder and needs lots of light. Anyone with claustrophobic tendencies could also have problems.
- Pests. Rodents and insects get into basements through foundation cracks or poorly sealed wall penetrations. Infestations make for uncomfortable living conditions and can be difficult to eradicate.
- Humidity. Basements are often humid. A dehumidifier can keep it under control.
- Noisier. Someone is living above you. If the basement ceiling is not properly soundproofed, footfall noise makes sleeping more difficult. Hot water heaters, furnaces, and shared laundry facilities are usually located in the basement.
Before Signing a Lease
When considering rental accommodations, most people know what they want like kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, parking, etc. Renting a basement apartment requires a little more attention to different details.
- Egress. Windows have to be large enough for an adult to get through.
- Smell. Musty odors usually indicate mold or mildew is present.
- Radon. When was the latest radon test done?
- Personal Needs. Be certain that the environment will not adversely affect health or happiness.
Potential Hazards of Basement Apartments
Basement apartments can be hazardous. Finding any of the following in a basement apartment should be cause for concern.
- Leaks and Cracks – Cracked concrete floors and walls can be difficult to see. Water entering the basement adds to humidity problems, may ruin belongings, and cause mold growth. In certain locations, radon gas will also accumulate inside.
- Mold – Signs of mold growth or a musty smell in the basement apartment are an indication of high humidity or water leaks–warnings of possible future problems.
- Radon Gas – Radon gas is produced by the natural decay of uranium. In areas where it is prevalent, it can seep through cracks in basement floors. Long-term exposure to radon can cause severe health problems. Radon test kits and detectors are available online and from building supply and safety supply outlets.
- Asbestos – Heating duct joints in older homes were often taped with asbestos tape or insulated with asbestos. Asbestos has been classified as a known human carcinogen and should be removed or encapsulated.
- Carbon Monoxide – Carbon monoxide is produced by fuel-burning heating systems–especially poorly performing installations. It is heavier than air, gathers near the floor, and is deadly. Insist on having a carbon monoxide detector installed.
- Flooding – Some locations flood more easily than others. Make sure your tenants’ insurance will cover water damage.