Does a Full Basement count as a Unit in a Multifamily House?

8 Replies

On RedFin I found many 2 Story Houses listed as 2-Units or 2-flats but the ads also say that there is a full basement.

If so, doesn't that make it 3 units?

Well, there are multiple variables that dictate whether a basement can be considered another “unit”.. the most prevalent being if it has a legal bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, ceiling height, and a number of other things. What constitutes “legal” also varies state to state and city to city, so it’s hard to say. For example, in NH, a bedroom needs to have a method of egress (window) which must meet a certain square footage requirement. In any event, you should check your local regulations to see what is necessary to convert an additional room into a bedroom, or a basement into a unit.

A basement is only a unit if it has been permitted by your municipality. A permit to construct would be required and the unit built to code.

@Jun Zao There are several factors which determine if the basement can be considered a legal unit.

1. It has to finished and livable

2. The basement should be 90% ( I think) above grade  and meet the ceiling height requirements

3. If it has a bedroom, the bedroom, should have a closet, egress window etc;

Many of the basements in Chicago, if complete, are just extra living space and technically not part of the square feet per lending standards. You can convert the basement unit into a legal one, if it satisfies, the above conditions.

Hey Jun, good question. There's an article on BP explaining this somewhere, try to see if you can find it. 

Usually if they separate basement and the number of units in the description, that means it is not a legal unit. In Chicago, a legal unit must have a few things:

  • 7.5' high ceilings
  • Plumbing/electric must be up to date per code
  • One exit for spaces < 800 sq. ft. or 2 exits for spaces > 800 sq. ft.
  • Certificate of zoning deeming the unit a legal unit

There's a few more things I'm probably missing. Check out the municipal code here (Title 13 specifically) : http://www.amlegal.com/codes/client/chicago_il/

Hope that helps!

-Sam

Originally posted by @Sam Amir :

Hey Jun, good question. There's an article on BP explaining this somewhere, try to see if you can find it. 

Usually if they separate basement and the number of units in the description, that means it is not a legal unit. In Chicago, a legal unit must have a few things:

  • 7.5' high ceilings
  • Plumbing/electric must be up to date per code
  • One exit for spaces < 800 sq. ft. or 2 exits for spaces > 800 sq. ft.
  • Certificate of zoning deeming the unit a legal unit

There's a few more things I'm probably missing. Check out the municipal code here (Title 13 specifically) : http://www.amlegal.com/codes/client/chicago_il/

Hope that helps!

-Sam

 This is all true, Sam is on point. It's quite a chore to get a unit changed to 3 units if you don't satisfy the above conditions. It would at least require full permits and possibly a zoning variance or change since many small multiunits in Chicago are massively underzoned and only exist because they are grandfathered in.

usually in the basement of older homes  will be the furnace , washer and dryer , the electrical panel , low ceilings and exposed pipes .  Hard to work with for a 3rd unit 

@Jun Zao In chicago often times the legality of the basement unit is unknown. It is tricky because some folks when they list it also like to call it a 3 unit when in fact it is a 2. As a general rule in Chicago I would say to assume that the basement unit is illegal

Originally posted by @Joe H. :
Originally posted by @Sam Amir:

Hey Jun, good question. There's an article on BP explaining this somewhere, try to see if you can find it. 

Usually if they separate basement and the number of units in the description, that means it is not a legal unit. In Chicago, a legal unit must have a few things:

  • 7.5' high ceilings
  • Plumbing/electric must be up to date per code
  • One exit for spaces < 800 sq. ft. or 2 exits for spaces > 800 sq. ft.
  • Certificate of zoning deeming the unit a legal unit

There's a few more things I'm probably missing. Check out the municipal code here (Title 13 specifically) : http://www.amlegal.com/codes/client/chicago_il/

Hope that helps!

-Sam

 This is all true, Sam is on point. It's quite a chore to get a unit changed to 3 units if you don't satisfy the above conditions. It would at least require full permits and possibly a zoning variance or change since many small multiunits in Chicago are massively underzoned and only exist because they are grandfathered in.

What @Joe H. said is true. The previous owners being grandfathered in is something to be aware of. I myself continue to find 2/3 flat buildings in Chicago that have livable basements but don't meet the rules required to be a legal additional unit. The most common issue I run into is having the proper amount of exists (I believe it is 2 total). 

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