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What are the risks of renting an illegal basement apartment in New York State?

Kingston, NY |

I'm contemplating buying a house that is set up as a mother/daughter. I would like to rent the extra space to help pay the mortgage. What are the risks I'm taking by doing this? Big fines and penalties? or a slap on the wrist and "stop now".?

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Attorney answers 4


Dear Kingston Home Owner:

You have to look locally in the jurisdiction where you are purchasing. Illegal apartments can carry great penalties. In NYC violations may run as much as $25,000.00 per instance.

Many other locations frown on illegal basement apartments. Sometimes, a local fire department, may issue a vacate order before a code enforcement officer. Or, the other way around.

"Illegal" means not allowed. Not lawful If you contemplate this sort of risk, you should learn just how this issue is dealt with where you are buying.

A local lawyer, familiar with the local enforcement agencies, is in the best position to formulate an opinion about the risks.

Good luck.

The answer provided to you is in the nature of general information. The general proposition being that you should try to avoid a bad outcome if you can.


Besides Mr. Smiollens wise advise you may be personally liable if there is an accident and you can even be charged with a crime if there is an incident ind the basement. In short either legalize it by hiring an architect, if yiu can or better yet do not buy the property.

If this answer is helpful, then please mark the helpful button. If this is the best answer, then please indicate it. Thanks. For further information you should see an attorney and discuss the matter completely. If you are in the New York City area, then you can reach me during normal business hours at 718 329 9500 or


Among other things if the tenant doesn't pay you can only recover possession. You can not get unpaid back rent.

I am a former federal and State prosecutor and have been doing criminal defense work for over 16 years. I was named to the Super Lawyers list as one of the top attorneys in New York for 2012 and 2013. No more than 5 percent of the lawyers in the state are selected by Super Lawyers. Martindale-Hubbell has given me its highest rating - AV Preeminent - in the areas of Criminal Law, Personal Injury, and Litigation. According to Martindale-Hubbell”AV Preeminent is a significant rating accomplishment - a testament to the fact that a lawyer's peers rank him or her at the highest level of professional excellence." Fewer than 8% of attorneys achieve an AV Preeminent rating. I also have the highest ranking – “superb” – on Avvo. The above answer, and any follow up comments or emails is for informational purposes only and not meant as legal advice.


Adding to the great advice you've already received, I'd like to point out that if you actually will depend on the income to pay your mortgage, don't even consider it. Basement apartment tenants are notorious for not paying rent when they learn the apartment is not legal - some look for this type of apartment knowing they can live for free for a very long time before the landlord can get them out.

I may be guessing or not licensed in your state. No atty/client relationship exists.