Thinking about renting a basement apartment? Before you dot the i's and cross the t's on your lease, think through exactly what you're getting into. Much like any home, basement apartments have a lot of good things going for them, along with some not-so-great things that are specific to living, well, somewhat underground.
If you're thinking about moving into a basement apartment, here's what you need to know:
FYI: Basement Apartments vs. Garden Apartments
Many people use the terms "basement apartment" and "garden apartment" interchangeably, but according to Street Easy, they're not quite the same, legally.
Basement apartments are on the bottom floor of a building and have strict requirements in order to be legally rented out: Their ceilings must be at least 7 feet high, they must have a window in every room, at least half of their height has to be above street level, and their walls need to be damp- and water-proofed, among some other rules and regulations.
Garden apartments are located on the ground floor of a building (usually single-family brownstones and townhouses in New York City) and have direct access to the patio or the garden in the backyard, according to Street Easy. Some garden apartments are different, in that they're apartment buildings with a shared garden or backyard for everyone to use.
The Pros of Basement Apartments
They're Often More Spacious
"Because basement apartments are often under single family homes, it's likely you'll get more space than you would in a multi-family unit," said Jeremy Wacksman, Chief Marketing Officer at Zillow.
They're Less Expensive
Not only do you get more space, but you pay less for basement apartments, too. Blogger Ashly (of Ashly and Monkey) wrote about her experience living in a basement apartment and confirmed both the extra space and the affordability aspects. "There is no way we could comfortably afford to rent a 2 bedroom high rise apartment in Vancouver right now," she wrote. "But we can afford 2 bedroom basement apartment." Wacksman noted that, because of this, basement apartments are a great way for renters to test out a neighborhood they're considering buying in.
There's More Privacy
Because basement apartments tend to have windows that are both smaller and higher up, and because they generally also have their own entrances, they feel a lot more private. Erin, the blogger behind Journey to Saving, also wrote about her experiences in a basement apartment, sharing, "We can definitely see outside, though! It also offers more privacy than if you had to share a house or apartment with someone else."
You Don't Have to Deal With Stairs
Since you're living on the bottom floor, you will likely only have to deal with going down one set of stairs as opposed to climbing several to get to your apartment. Erin noted that the lack of stairs to climb was especially helpful for move-in, since they only had to deal with one small flight of steps.
The Cons of Basement Apartments
They Tend to Have Lower Ceilings
"Some basement apartments can have lower ceilings or tight doorways," Zillow's Wacksman said. His advice: measure your furniture before you sign the lease. Erin, of Journey to Saving, also suggested walking around in the apartment a bit to make sure the low ceilings don't bother you or stress you out, noting that if she stretches in her basement apartment, she can touch the ceiling.
They Can Be Noisier
Basement apartments are sometimes not soundproofed the same way other apartments and multi-family complexes are, Wacksman explained. "If there are tenants above you, try to tour the house after business hours when they might be home," he said. "That way you will know if you can easily hear them walking around, dogs barking, TV's, etc." Both Erin and Ashly's blogs back up the noisiness as a negative factor, so if you can't deal with loud neighbors, keep that in mind.
There Might Be a Lack of Natural Light
Tiny, high-up windows might mean more privacy, but they also can mean that you won't get as much natural light in your apartment. Erin wrote that while their apartment is isn't particularly gloomy, the lack of light does still make a difference. "We only have four windows and a door that light can come through," she explained, noting that she—and her cats—miss the sun coming in.
Other Things to Keep in Mind:
The temperature in basement apartments can be both a pro and a con—heat rises, so they tend to stay cooler during warmer months, but that also means they can be too cold during winter, too. Wacksman said this can affect utility costs, so it's something to consider. "Talk with your potential landlord to see if you would be responsible for heating," he said. "If you are, try to get an estimate for how much previous tenants spent so you can budget accordingly. Keep in mind heating costs can vary significantly by location and the size of the space."
Wacksman also noted that many basement apartments come with designated parking, since they tend to be in residential neighborhoods. "Talk to your landlord and see if parking is included in your rent," he said. "And if not, see how competitive street parking is—it's likely it's not as full as a street with lots of apartment buildings."