Hundreds of thousands of homeowners are renting out basement apartments – but many of them aren’t up to code and therefore illegal. In addition to being dangerous, failure to install safety features like escape windows could lead to hefty fines and penalties if they’re discovered.
There are a lot of reasons why people turn their basements into apartments:
Sometimes it’s parents looking to give older kids a little independence. Other times it’s low income families looking for a little additional income. Whatever the reason, however, townships and cities are cracking down on these illegal residencies; and it can cost homeowners a lot if they’re caught.
This is because creating a basement apartment isn’t as simple as installing a front door and a kitchen counter top. There are important safety features to consider, like adding a means of egress so basement occupants can escape in the case of a fire.
Failure to get your basement apartment up to building code could cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in fines – and townships across the country are becoming more and more aggressive about catching rule-breakers – in part because the income these fines generate can help meet budget deficits caused by the poor economy.
Some cities are offering an “amnesty” – giving apartment owners who register their basement apartments a year’s grace period to get them up to code. Other townships aren’t being so generous – and some are even scouring the ads on Craigslist and setting up appointments to catch rule-breakers red-handed.
If you’ve got a basement that you’re considering turning into an apartment, the best advice we can give you is to make sure you do the job properly. Talk to a contractor or township official about what needs to be done, and keep your new apartment registered and inspected to stay out of trouble.
Although rental owners might be feeling victimized by the move to crack down on illegal apartments, there is a lot of good that comes out of it. Basic building safety code, like adding egress basement windows, could ultimately save a life.
And at the end of the day, homeowners who choose not to get their basement apartments up to code risk far more than just a fine from the city.