2 to 3 family - convert basement unit

13 Replies

Hi world. I have a 2 family in East Boston, MA that had some work in place for a basement apartment when I bought it. The house is currently a 2 family and I was hoping to make it a 3. It might take 35k for the renovation and I would be looking at $1200/month from the unit. Pretty nice ROI. The ceiling height is ideal and the unit would have one egress through the basement door and another through a window. What are the legal steps in this process?

  1. Get zoning/planning to approve
  2. Get building department to approve
  3. Do the construction
  4. Get it inspected
  5. Pass inspection & voila, legal unit

It all starts by going down to the zoning/planning department of your city.

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OK, I just checked the zoning for the property and this came up.. Does this mean I skip step 1 and go right to the building dept?

Zoning District :

East Boston Neighborhood

Zoning Subdistrict :


Subdistrict Type : 3 Family Residential

53 (Table; Appendix)

@JP Krueger - I'm considering the same, but won't be ready to get serious until 2017 because currently the basement is rented for storage.  Anyhow, I was given the names of an attorney and architect with experience in Boston with this.  Let me know if you'd like their contact info.

@JP Krueger I'm a fellow real estate investor and a zoning attorney who practices in Boston.  You are going to have an issue with means of access, the window. Also, the new administration has taken a more negative view of adding basement units than their predecessors. I'm not saying it can't be done but it can be a very complicated process. Direct message me if you'd like to discuss further. 


Hello, I'm curious how this went. I currently am closing on a Boston property I plan to convert to a 3 family in an MFR zone. It would be 3 levels of 1 bed, 1 bath units and all work to meet building / fire codes will be done. My biggest concern is hitting a roadblock with zoning, specifically for parking (there isn't any) but if it's in an MFR zone, will the building department kick it to zoning potentially for a variance? Thank you in advance for any assistance.

@Shaine Grogan

Shane you need to check out the Real Estate Addicts podcasts. It's 3 developers, one of whom is @Ray Hurteau , specifically in the Boston area who have done work in South Boston, East Boston and surrounding. They have many episodes that have knowledge specific to exactly what you're doing, including a episodes specifically on zoning. (But don't just listen to that episode, because all of them provide great info and it's more or less and pertaining to Boston). Good luck. I live in Jeffries point so great to see the neighborhood getting renovation!

Hey @Shaine Grogan , go here and enter your property address:


From there, you'll see the zoning that applies and look for the various tables that talk about setback requirements, minimum lot sizes, parking, etc.  Ideally, you'd want to engage a local zoning attorney who works in that neighborhood and get a zoning analysis/opinion.  Feel free to PM/connect if you'd like.  Thanks for the shoutout @Timothy Walsh !

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