City puts $14 billion price tag on illegal basement apartments

Mayor Eric Adams (Getty)

Bringing illegal basement apartments up to code is going to bring about more change than the Big Apple.

City Hall estimated it would take $13.7 billion to bring the roughly 50,000 units up to code, according to the New York Post. reported. The price tag is part of a draft report sent to the federal government for an $188 million relief package after Hurricane Ida killed at least 13 people and sparked new concerns about sub units -floor.

The cost was calculated using data from a pilot program launched by former Mayor Bill de Blasio to legalize underground apartments in East New York. This program progressed slowly, as the city said only six units in the neighborhood had started or completed renovations, compared to 8,000 units that could have benefited from the program.

Mayor Eric Adams supported legalizing basement apartments to make them safer. The estimated cost to bring each unit up to code ranges from $275,000 to $375,000 each.

In addition to providing the first prize for upgrading homes, the report says officials plan to spend $400,000 to study conversions before expanding the pilot program.

“[T]The process of safe and legal use of a basement apartment is too difficult and costly for many homeowners who could benefit from legally renting a secondary unit in their home,” the report states.

Hurricane Ida has triggered a toll for real estate and political players after hitting a year ago. Torrential rain flooded many underground apartments, particularly in Queens, killing 13 people across the city, 11 of whom drowned in basements.

Since then, the city has been looking for ways to make these units safer by regulating them. Various attempts by the city and state have failed, however, leaving the apartments as vulnerable as they were a year ago.

City Comptroller Brad Lander last week proposed the “Protecting Basement Residents Act,” which would establish a city council to assess flood and fire risks for existing basement apartments. The program would follow state Loft law and temporarily legalize basement units as pth to bring them up to code.

The Pratt Center estimated between 300,000 and 500,000 families living in basements and cellars across the city.

—Holden Walter-Warner

Richard L. Militello