Finish Attic Convert 2 Family to 3 Family Albany NY

10 Replies

Hello Bigger Pockets,

I am purchasing a 2 Family Residence in the Pine Hills area. The Home has a large attic and I am interested in converting the home into a 3 family by finishing the attic. 

Has anyone successfully done this in the Albany NY Area?

Home is currently in an R-2 Zoned area. Zoning does not allow for 3 families according to the Department of Planning and Development.  

They advised me that I would have to apply for a use variance with a description of hardship, etc. Has anyone successfully done this? If so can you discuss the steps necessary to complete.

If getting a variance is not possible what about putting bedrooms and a bathroom in the attic and renting it as part of the 2nd floor unit?

Thanks.

BP says you posted in Cleveland local forum. You might get better response if you repost in an Albany local forum. Good luck.

Here in cleveland, you can typically  use the finished third floor for bedrooms if you provide a window ladder for emergency egress. No cooking. 

I haven't done it in Albany. My daughter just graduated SUNY Albany.

I've had some experience in zoning variances in NYC and Long Island. You need someone who is familiar with local codes and procedures. These are either "expeditors" or architects, though I used someone who advertised as an expeditor and also is an architect.

The architect who I used charged $150.00 to review the property, advise what zoning variances are required. He charge separately for preparing for zoning board meetings, attend the meetings, and fills out all the paperwork. The expeditor I used for another property cost me $1,500 in fees as I purchased a property with an illegal 3rd unit in a duplex needing legalization. Cannot get the zoning variance, but did all the paperwork to legalized what was there as the city demand it be abolished.

Had it proceeded to the variance, then it would have called for a public hearings and notification of all neighbors within 200 feet. In NYC, zoning codes are different between 2 and 3 families, and fire escapes are required, not a simple ladder. Furnace rooms had to be surrounded by concrete walls etc.

But the issue here in NYC and Long Island has more to do with infrastructure or lack thereof. The home owner association president told me he opposes any up-zoning because of infrastructure. His point was if one homeowner is allowed, others will follow, and the schools are already overcrowded. I thought it was all BS, but a few years ago, a third school was built in my area to supplement the existing two and reported in the papers that schools in my area was overcrowded for years and kids had to be bused elsewhere.

I know this home owner association president was also active in getting funding for a local playground that my daughter enjoyed when she was a toddler. When a go fund me page appeared last month for him as he's now suffering from dementia and prostate cancer that I sent in a contribution. Thinking back, up zoning was not good for the area and he was right.

My wife worked in zoning and city planning and tells me that county and towns sometimes oppose up-zoning for infrastructure reasons, traffic, water, sewer, utilities like electric and gas. Recently, the local utility Con Ed said that gas use is at capacity in a neighboring county, and they cannot supply any more, and building permits are held up as a result. If that's the case, are they going to give a variance for an additional units in existing duplexes?

So there's a lot more issues than you have a finished attic, covert to an apartment, and voila, get more rental income.

Definitely hire an architect for this. Main reason is to review all the building codes and local zoning regs. Just because 3 units are allowed doesnt mean it will work for this situation, especially since its in an attic. There are a lot of codes, main egress and unit separation, issues that are not easy to implement. You could get yourself in a lot of trouble building a unit that does not meet ALL the code requirements. 

Hey Guys  thanks for the responses. My first time posting so I did not mean to post 8n Cleveland. I will attempt to reconcile that.

In any case I have one concern. My plan was to finish the attic regardless of whether it could be rented separately. I figured I could simply rent it as the 2nd floor of the 2nd level unit. Are you saying it's possible even just finishing the attic could be an issue? I plan on finishing it up to code with proper regresses, etc.

Originally posted by @Ben Myers :

Also do any of you know where I could locate an expeditor. Should I just reach out to architects in the area?

 In this situation, first use an architect, as he'll be familiar with the local codes. For your attic, he can tell you if it's got the correct height, window size, and issues with egress, and what you need to do to bring it up to code. I had an architect do a walk through doing this and charged me $150.00. Assuming it's doable, a draftsman is needed to draw up plans. After this, an expeditor can take over to file plans, apply for permits, schedule zoning meetings, mail notices etc. for zoning to get approval for the plans. He'll arrange necessary inspections etc. In this case, the architect tells me he can also do the expediting, so I'll have a package deal with him.

If you have a knowledgeable and connected expeditor, for the right project, it's worth the money. I was cited for an illegal unit, and the citation calls for the unit to be demolish down to the bare walls. If I want something else there, like an office, I have to start from scratch. This order was issued by the city. My expeditor knew the assistant commissioner personally and the reason for the order is to punish landlords profiting from the illegal unit. He explained to the assistant commissioner over lunch that I bought the property in a foreclosure, never rented out the illegal unit, thus never profited, so punishment is not called for. The assistant commissioner agreed, the order to demolish was rescinded, my plan to make minor alterations was approved instead. I already removed the stove and refrigerator. The only thing left was removing the bath tub. The illegal kitchen was renamed "private entertainment bar" under the new plans, and the renovations cost me a few thousand, rather than the $30K or more for complete demolition and do over. He also did the paperwork to avoid fines where illegal work was done before, such as removing an illegal tub. 

Don't waste your money calling in anyone, I'm in the Albany area and have tried to do this, and if its already R2 zoned, you have ZERO chance of getting a variance to add a 3rd unit legally, don't bother trying.  Whether it could meet code doesn't matter because you'll never get past the zoning issue.  All of the cities around the capital region are strapped for parking space, thus the cities are all trying to reduce, not increase, occupancy per acre, so they're not going to do it.  Your case also is not "hardship" so that won't work.

I bought a property in Schenectady, same situation, except the 3rd (illegal) unit was 80% complete when I bought it from foreclosure.  The city shot me down about finishing the third unit, so instead i made it into 2 more beds, a family room, and a half bath, and combined it with the second unit to make a giant 4BR, 2000 sf unit.

Originally posted by @Ryan Vienneau :

Don't waste your money calling in anyone, I'm in the Albany area and have tried to do this, and if its already R2 zoned, you have ZERO chance of getting a variance to add a 3rd unit legally, don't bother trying.  Whether it could meet code doesn't matter because you'll never get past the zoning issue.  All of the cities around the capital region are strapped for parking space, thus the cities are all trying to reduce, not increase, occupancy per acre, so they're not going to do it.  Your case also is not "hardship" so that won't work.

I bought a property in Schenectady, same situation, except the 3rd (illegal) unit was 80% complete when I bought it from foreclosure.  The city shot me down about finishing the third unit, so instead i made it into 2 more beds, a family room, and a half bath, and combined it with the second unit to make a giant 4BR, 2000 sf unit.

 Absolutely, the situation is exactly that where I am.

In my area, where I failed to obtain the variance, the community is active and highly opposed to up-zoning. I lived in areas of the county where the communities are less active, illegal conversions from a legal 2 to illegal 3 are rampant, the areas look less inviting, bars on windows are widespread. The net result is my area now are more gentrified, old houses are torn down giving way to new ones, with new McMansion type duplexes selling for more than $2 million.

But I'm a little leery of renting out 4 BR's. My dad had one of those, an older 8 room apartment he rented to a family of four, Vietnamese boat people, parents with 2 children. A little later, neighbors were complaining about "all those people living there". My dad wanted to do an inspection and got excuses time after time that it's a bad time. Finally, he got in, and counted bunk beds for over 20 people. Before this, he went over 7:00AM one morning to observe, saw several children leaving for school at 8;00AM, and the tenant told my dad they were friends of the children, dropped by earlier at 6:00am to visit, and he missed that. Believe that? Most communities have regulation against rooming houses, usually landlords run afoul of it, but in some cases, tenants turn them into rooming houses under the noses of the landlord, making money hand over fists.

That's why I prefer 2BR's, renting to a couple or two roommates. I rented 3BR to couples as well. With higher paid professionals, I don't get into hassles with neighbors. Good that my dad are friendly with the neighbors, took care of the problem, had the tenant vacate, before neighbors report him. My mom in law lived in a R-2 zoned area, and the owner across the street converted the attic and basement to living space, and then ran a rooming house, with over 20 roomers. Fed up neighbors turned the owner in, and he sold the place. Apparently, the new buyer wasn't told about what happened, thought a finished attic and basement would make a good rooming house, and neighbors had to start all over again.

With larger apartments, the ideal tenant is someone living there running a home based business. I had them. Trouble is, when they're successful, hire employees, then you run into insurance issues, especially when the employees work there. An employee of my tenant would leave the front door unlocked when she goes down the street for snacks. A friend of mine ran a mail order business from his home, nosy neighbor want to know about all the deliveries he's getting from UPS. So he had to do pickups and deliveries from the UPS warehouses rather than have them deliver to his house.

@Ben Myers I was looking at a property in Saratoga not too long ago and I was trying to do the same thing. Zoned R2 and everything came back saying that I couldn't add an additional unit.  If it were me I would just do like you said and expand the upper unit. Convert the attic to another bedroom or two and a bath. You'll find the right family to move into it or even possibly the right group of college kids to rent by the room with their parents as co signers (although I think I'd just rather have a family). Best of luck to you moving forward!

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