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Old 03-13-2012, 09:51 PM
 
1,250 posts, read 2,548,863 times
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Default How to know if basement apartment is legal (or not)..

I've been helping a friend apartment hunt over the last few weeks (and kinda looking at possible future places for me as my lease comes up for renewal in a few months) and have been surprised at the number of basement units there are here.

Most of them have been fine and liveable, only being partially underground with separate doors and light wells to the outside.

However a few struck me as surprising and had me questioning if they are even legal.

The particular units I'm speaking of were in multi-family buildings (I think like 25ish units in each building).

These units were completely underground with absolutely no real windows and only a door to the outside hall way (which is of course, still underground so no light or anything). I say no real window because in each unit there are little tiny openings in the ceiling but they are by no means a point of egress. The ceilings are ~10 feet high so no way anyone could escape and the openings aren't actually windows but just small openings in the sidewalk above (the unit is actually under the sidewalk!)

Something like this: http://www.frenchfamilyassoc.com/FFA...s/image008.png (not exactly but the closest I could find).

Architecturally, it seems pretty neat, especially now that I'm searching the history of these sidewalk vaults as they are called, but they do not seem particularly livable.

Obviously I'm not a expert on building code but I just don't see how that could be legal. There's only one exit in case of emergency (the front door), but what if that door is inaccessible? What about ventilation?

Obviously this will depend on location (this is in Virginia [Richmond region to be exact], but does anyone have an idea if this is legal or not.

It's a fairly large company that runs this building (and several others) so I'd have to think they'd know if it were legal or not and wouldn't risk illegal apartments.
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Old 03-13-2012, 11:32 PM
 
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Most jurisdictions will have a department of building records and they will have a record of the certificate of occupancy...

Bootleg units could be perfectly charming... the biggest problems are often egress, lighting and ventilation...

You may encounter some units not meeting current codes because they are Grandfathered... in other words they met code at the time of construction or are designated historical buildings.

One quick if not totally accurate way is to find the mailbox... should be a separate mailbox for each legal unit.

Don't overlook utilities... shared utilities can easily become a source of contention...

Always a good idea to make sure each room used for sleeping has two ways in or out... generally a door and a window no less than 10 square feet with 5 square feet that opens and the window bottom withing 44 inches from the floor... also, no gas fired appliances should be located in sleeping areas and any security bars have to have approved emergency release devices...
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Old 03-15-2012, 08:36 AM
 
204 posts, read 525,335 times
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I think Ultrarunner pretty much hit it square on the head. I just wanted to add that it would creep me out to have the only window set into the sidewalk. I think I wouldn't be able to live in a place where people could, conceivably, be walking outside and look down into my living area.

That picture is kind of neat to look at from an architectural standpoint, though.

The lack of multiple exits, and natural light, would also make me pass on the place. I've heard that basement apartments tend to be cold/damp, moreso if they are completely underground.

Good luck on your and your friend's search.
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Old 03-15-2012, 11:19 AM
 
Location: southwest TN
6,499 posts, read 6,461,142 times
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What Ultrarunner said is exactly the situation for NYC and surrounding metro areas:

A single door that exits into a hallway rather than straight outside in a basement unit makes the entire unit illegal.

As above posters have said, however, just thinking from a safety pov, there's no way I'd consider living in a unit like that. What if there was a fire in the basement itself? How do you get out? How do rescue personnel get in?
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Old 02-20-2014, 08:53 AM
 
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Hi I am currently renting a studio basement, utilities are included. My landlord did not pay his electric bill and i have no electricity. Do I have any rights regarding this matter? Please help
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Old 02-20-2014, 08:59 AM
 
957 posts, read 501,470 times
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Don't know the laws where you are but if the apartment didn't have these things, I'd bet it's illegal:

A separate electric meter, private entrance (not having to go through another unit to exit), full bath, full kitchen. If you have to share any of things, it's probably illegal.
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Old 02-20-2014, 09:02 AM
 
Location: The Triad (nc)
16,344 posts, read 18,905,814 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 540_804 View Post
How to know if basement apartment is legal (or not)..
Start with the assumption that it is NOT legal
(rather few are -maybe 20%)

If it's a real issue for some reason (eg buying)... have the owner/seller PROVE it.
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Old 02-20-2014, 09:26 AM
 
Location: St Thomas, US Virgin Islands
20,521 posts, read 22,551,554 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ojeda16 View Post
Hi I am currently renting a studio basement, utilities are included. My landlord did not pay his electric bill and i have no electricity. Do I have any rights regarding this matter? Please help
Yes, you can move without penalty because the LL has broken the law in not providing you with power. But, first things first. Have you contacted the LL and followed up in writing? What was his response? Are there other tenants also without power? Does the LL live upstairs and, if so, presumably he also has no power?

You've really given too little information for anyone to be of real help but if this lasts more than a couple of days and you can't get any satisfaction from the LL then you should probably contact either Legal Aid in your area or a real estate attorney.
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Old 02-20-2014, 10:10 AM
 
Location: Austin, TX
14,066 posts, read 18,433,190 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ojeda16 View Post
Hi I am currently renting a studio basement, utilities are included. My landlord did not pay his electric bill and i have no electricity. Do I have any rights regarding this matter? Please help
Yes, you have the right to expect the landlord to rectify this situation as soon as possible. Have you notified the landlord of the problem? If its been more than a day and its still not fixed you should notify him in writing and send it Certified mail, return receipt requested.

Read up on your state laws regarding the landlords obligation to make repairs, in many states you are entitled to break the lease if repairs are not made in the specified time limit. You can probably find a link to your state landlord tenant laws in the sticky thread at the top of this forum.
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Old 02-20-2014, 10:13 AM
 
Location: Austin, TX
14,066 posts, read 18,433,190 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nodpete View Post
Don't know the laws where you are but if the apartment didn't have these things, I'd bet it's illegal:

A separate electric meter, private entrance (not having to go through another unit to exit), full bath, full kitchen. If you have to share any of things, it's probably illegal.
There is no law in most places requiring a separate electric meter, many apartments share a meter in some locations and are perfectly legal. It is also not uncommon for people to rent a room and share other common living quarters, in which case their exit would be through the common area.
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