Basement Apartment Living: A Comprehensive Guide to Comfortable and Affordable Living

If you're tired of sky-high rent prices or struggling to find available apartments in urban areas, it's time to consider the alternative: basement apartments. In this ultimate guide, we'll provide you with everything you need...

If you're tired of sky-high rent prices or struggling to find available apartments in urban areas, it's time to consider the alternative: basement apartments. In this ultimate guide, we'll provide you with everything you need to know about basement apartment living. From the different types of basement apartments to the pros and cons, and essential questions to ask before renting, we've got you covered.

What Is a Basement Apartment?

A basement apartment is a living space situated primarily below ground level. Typically found in apartment complexes or multi-family properties, these units offer an affordable housing option. While at least 50% of the apartment is beneath the surface, basement apartments often feature larger windows that allow some natural light to brighten the space. Even though this light is not as abundant as in above-ground units, it still adds a pleasant touch, especially during sunnier seasons.

Basement Apartment Living Image: Basement Apartment Living

Different Types of Basement Apartments

Not all basement apartments are created equal. Here are the three main types to consider:

Daylight Basement Apartment

This type of basement apartment, sometimes referred to as "English basements," features at least one sliding door or full-sized window. These windows provide better opportunities for fresh air circulation and natural light during the day.

Below-Ground Apartment Units

These basement apartments lack full-sized windows or sliding doors. While they are typically less expensive than daylight basement apartments, they may also feel darker and less airy.

House Basements

House basements are not originally designed for living spaces, but they can be converted into one. Common renovations include bedrooms, bathrooms, or family rooms, which can then be rented out to tenants.

Now that you know the different types of basement apartments available, let's dive into the advantages and disadvantages of living in one.

Basement Rentals: Advantages


One of the biggest advantages of basement apartments is their affordability. These units typically come with a friendlier price tag compared to above-ground or garden-level apartments. While you may sacrifice abundant natural light and panoramic views, you'll be getting more value for your money.


Basement units often offer more living space compared to other apartments within the same property. This is because essential home systems, such as HVAC, plumbing, and laundry utilities, occupy areas that could have been allocated for another apartment. The unique layout of basement apartments provides functional systems and extra living area for its tenants.

Increased Privacy

Many basement apartments come with the perk of a private entrance, adding an exclusive touch to your living space. If you rent a basement apartment in a single-family property, chances are you'll be the sole dweller enjoying the seclusion of the basement level. This added layer of privacy and quiet can make it feel like your own personal retreat.

Easy Access

Living in a basement suite offers street-level convenience. This is especially advantageous in bustling cities where carrying groceries up several flights of stairs can be a hassle. With a basement apartment, you can enjoy the simplicity of easy access to the street for a quick bathroom break or pet outing.

Renovation Approvals

Depending on your landlord's policies and local building regulations, basement apartments may provide you with more flexibility when it comes to personalizing your space. Minor renovations like lighting or updated fixtures may be permitted, allowing you to add your personal touch to the apartment. Of course, any renovations must adhere to your lease terms and receive approval from your landlord.

Reduced Utility Costs

Basement apartments benefit from natural insulation due to their below-ground location. This makes them more energy-efficient, resulting in reduced cooling and heating bills. Over time, these savings can add up and make a significant difference.

The Pros of Basement Apartment Living Image: The Pros of Basement Apartment Living

Basement Rentals: Disadvantages

While basement apartments offer several advantages, they also have their drawbacks. Here are some potential disadvantages to consider:

Less Natural Light

Compared to above-ground apartments, basement units receive less natural light. This can be challenging to handle, especially during the winter months. To combat this, consider investing in lights with adjustable brightness settings and incorporating mirrors to help reflect the available light.

Increased Noise Levels

Basement apartments often lack adequate noise insulation between the first floor and the basement. This means that noise from your upstairs neighbors can seem louder than it actually is. Additionally, the sound of the sump pump during rainy weather and the HVAC system's noise may also be more noticeable.

Cons of Basement Apartment Living Image: Cons of Basement Apartment Living

Moisture and Mold Issues

Basement apartments tend to be more prone to moisture accumulation, which can lead to mold growth, even if the apartment has been professionally treated. This can result in a mildew-esque smell that lingers throughout the unit.

Cool Temperatures

While basement apartments offer a naturally cool environment during the summer, they can become uncomfortably cold in the winter. To address this, investing in a personal heater can help maintain a comfortable temperature.

Lower Ceilings

A common drawback of basement apartments is their typically lower ceilings. This can make the space feel more confined, especially for taller individuals. Navigating through the apartment may feel cramped due to the limited vertical space.

Less Ventilation

Proper ventilation is a challenge for many basement apartments, particularly those completely below ground. This makes it difficult to control indoor humidity levels and get rid of stale air. Inadequate ventilation can lead to issues with mold and mildew, which can be harmful to your health and require professional maintenance.

Flooding Risks

Depending on the region where your basement apartment is located, it may be prone to flooding during flood season or heavy rains. This can result in damage to your belongings and require additional precautions to protect your possessions.

Potential for Pests

Being at or below ground level, basement apartments are more susceptible to pests such as spiders, centipedes, and other common household insects. If you have an aversion to these creatures, basement living may not be the right choice for you.

Safety Concerns

Basement apartments may be more vulnerable to security threats due to their proximity to the building's exterior. Some basement apartments have window entrances at ground level, which can increase the risk of break-ins. It is important to ensure you have the appropriate security measures in place to feel safe and secure.

No Outdoor Access

Unlike other apartments, basement units do not typically come with outdoor access, such as a patio or backyard. If outdoor recreation is essential to you, you may need to explore local parks or hiking trails to fulfill that need.

The Legality of Basement Apartments

When considering basement units for rent, it's crucial to be aware of local laws and regulations. Certain areas, like New York City, have specific codes that basement apartments must meet. These units, being partially or entirely below ground, face unique challenges, such as flooding, mold, poor ventilation, and limited escape routes. For example, in NYC, legal basement apartments must have a ceiling height of at least 7 feet and at least one window in every room. Additionally, they must have at least two forms of egress - a standard entry door and an egress window or another large enough door for emergency exits.

Safety should be a top priority. Always check for a Certificate of Occupancy to verify that the basement apartment meets all building and zoning laws for residential use. In NYC, you can utilize the DOB website as a resource to ensure compliance. It is important to be cautious of older units that may not meet current code requirements, as they could be more susceptible to flooding or other issues. Understanding and adhering to local regulations will help ensure you find a safe and legal basement apartment.

Questions to Ask Before Renting a Basement Apartment

Before committing to renting a basement apartment, it is crucial to ask yourself and the landlord a few important questions:

  1. Does the air smell fresh or is there a hint of mold or dampness?
  2. Are you susceptible to vitamin D deficiencies?
  3. Do you have any mental health conditions that intensify with extended darkness?
  4. Are there easily accessible exits in case of an emergency?
  5. Have there been any past issues with mold or moisture, and how were they addressed?
  6. Has the basement ever experienced flooding, and what preventive measures are in place?
  7. Are there working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and is there a fire extinguisher available?
  8. When was the last radon test conducted for the apartment?

Asking these questions will help ensure that the basement apartment meets your specific needs and is suitable for year-round living.

8 Must-Ask Questions Before Renting a Basement Apartment Image: 8 Must-Ask Questions Before Renting a Basement Apartment

Is a Basement Apartment Right for You?

Now that you have all the information, you can make an informed decision about whether a basement apartment is the right choice for you. Basement apartments provide comfortable and affordable living options, offering unique advantages over above-ground units. However, it's crucial to understand your specific needs and preferences when it comes to apartment living. If amenities like a quick commute, gym access, or in-unit laundry are essential to you, Apartment List can help you find an apartment that meets all your requirements.

When you're ready to find the best basement apartment for rent, start with Apartment List's personalized quiz. It will save you time and energy during your search, ensuring you find the perfect place to call home.

Basement Apartment FAQs

Are Basement Apartments Different from Garden Apartments?

Yes, basement apartments and garden apartments have some key differences:

  • Location: Basement apartments are situated below ground level, while garden apartments are located on the ground floor or slightly below ground level.
  • Access to natural light: Basement apartments typically have fewer windows compared to garden apartments, resulting in less natural light.
  • Privacy: Garden apartments often come with private patios or balconies, offering more privacy than basement apartments.
  • Security: Basement apartments may be more susceptible to flooding and other security risks compared to garden apartments.
  • Price: Basement apartments are generally less expensive than garden apartments.

Are Basement Apartments the Same as Cellar Apartments?

No, basement apartments and cellar apartments are not the same. A cellar apartment has more than half of its height below the curb level, while a basement apartment has at least half of its height above the curb level.

What Is the Average Size of a Basement Apartment?

The average size of a basement apartment typically ranges from 600 to 1,000 square feet. However, the size can vary depending on the house's overall size and the basement's layout. Some basement apartments may be smaller, while others may offer more space.

How Do I Make the Best of a Basement Apartment?

To make the most of a basement apartment, consider the following tips:

  • Maximize natural light by keeping windows clean and unobstructed.
  • Use light colors for walls, furniture, and decor to create a brighter atmosphere.
  • Add mirrors to reflect light and make the space appear larger.
  • Incorporate plants to bring life and freshness to the apartment.
  • Use rugs and textiles to add warmth and comfort.
  • Declutter regularly to maintain a spacious and organized environment.
  • Add personal touches to infuse your personality into the space.

What Types of Safety Features Should a Basement Apartment Have?

Important safety features for basement apartments include:

  • Functional smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Properly installed and maintained electrical and plumbing devices.
  • Working fire extinguishers.
  • Compliance with local building codes.

How Can I Reduce Humidity in a Basement Apartment?

To reduce humidity in your basement apartment, consider investing in a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture. Additionally, keeping windows open and utilizing exhaust fans can improve ventilation and airflow.

How Can I Keep My Basement Apartment Cool in the Summer?

To keep your basement apartment cool during the summer, try the following tips:

  • Install a dehumidifier to control moisture levels.
  • Keep windows closed during the day to prevent warm air from entering.
  • Use fans to circulate air and create a cooling effect.
  • Paint the walls with light colors to reflect heat.
  • Keep the basement clean and organized to improve airflow.

How Can I Keep My Basement Apartment Warm in the Winter?

To keep your basement apartment warm during the winter, consider these tips:

  • Insulate the apartment to prevent heat loss.
  • Seal any cracks or gaps in windows and doors to minimize drafts.
  • Add weatherstripping to improve insulation.
  • Install storm windows or doors for extra protection against cold air.
  • Use a space heater to maintain a comfortable temperature.
  • Keep the basement door closed to prevent drafts from other areas.
  • Use warm rugs and blankets for added coziness.
  • Ventilate the apartment regularly to prevent moisture buildup.

Living in a basement apartment can be a great solution for affordable and comfortable living. By understanding the advantages, disadvantages, and considerations involved, you can make an informed decision about whether a basement apartment is the right choice for you.