Listed as 2 family but public record has it at 3 family?

7 Replies

Good Evening All,

We looked at a listing today in Providence that was listed as a 2 family but has 3 units, there isn't anyone living in the 3rd unit.  The third unit and the 1st unit share an electric meter however the 3rd floor has it's own gas.  If one rented it as a 2 family and just included the electric utility in the rents with the upstairs unit having a 2 levels it would be odd as the 3rd floor of the upstairs unit would have a separate gas bill.

 I was curious what all would be involved to convert it to a legal 3 family and separate the electricity?

Thanks for any advice.

If the city says it is a 3 unit then it is already a "legal" 3 unit.   As far as splitting off the electricity, you will have to have an electrician involved.  The electric company won't put in a new meter without the permits being pulled and the city saying it is safe.  Being the 3rd floor and I assume attic access, it won't be all the difficult, just a pain in the rump working up there and running/separating the lines.  If I was in your position, I would looking to do just that.

Thanks @Mark Poulton, is that expensive or is that a loaded question :)

One can't enter the 3rd unit either from the front door, you have to go around the back of the house to access the 3rd unit.  I wasn't sure if that was a little off putting but maybe that is me thinking about myself.

That is pretty common to have a separate entrance.  Is it expensive?  It will cost you some money (in the thousands most likely).  Electricians are in demand with the building boom, but in my opinion it is something I would have to do.

@Dolores Waldron Be careful here, since "the city" can mean several things. If it's listed on the tax assessor website/records as a 3 family, that does not determine "legal use". Legal use is determined only by the building department, which usually means actually going down to the building department, giving them the plat and lot, and seeing what they come back with as the legal use.

I've encountered many times in my investing career (including just last month) where the tax assessor and building department had different # of units, and the building department is the one that matters.

Usually the issue with making something a 3rd legal unit is whether the lot size is big enough, especially whether there is enough parking. Also something else to consider is that the fire code requirements are more involved for a 3-family (interconnected) than a 2, so if it's not already compliant with the 3 family requirements you'd be expected to bring it up to compliance if trying to turn it into a legal 3 family.

The phone # for the building department (technically "Department of Inspections and Standards") is 680-5201 and their website is - as with most city services, I find that I can usually get some help over the phone (sometimes with some waiting on hold), but they are most helpful in person, if that's something you're able to do.

On the specifics of that particular property, one option that often comes up with weird utility setups like you describe, is to just have the owner pay utilities. I'm not a huge fan of it philosophically (I believe it encourages waste - you only have to see open windows in the middle of winter to figure out which ones have owner-paid heating), but tenants love it, it makes it much easier to fill units, and if you invest the money in a high-efficiency, on-demand system it can actually work out OK money-wise.

I would verify the legal use for the property at Providence Inspections and Standards. They also have a packet that explains the requirements for converting legal use from two to three, which I believe includes adding a sprinkler system. Most of these properties end up as two families with second and third floors as a townhouse unit.

For the gas utilities, assuming the mechanicals are in the basement, it's pretty easy to re-plumb heat and hot water appliances from the third floor meter to the second. For the electricity, if the circuits are run directly from the first floor's breakers panel to the third and not, it's similarly easy to transfer those to the second floor's panel, if there's room in the box. If the circuits are move badly co-mingled, it might be necessary to rewire the building, or just include the electricity in the rent.

Thank you @Shawn Michalek and @Anthony Thompson , this is great information.

I think this one might be out of our depth, we are relatively new and do not have a lot of $$ to play with in regards to the possibility of rewiring if that is what was needed.  We were hoping that this would be a little cleaner but I understand that's what will throw most people off and should push through :)  I will investigate further, thanks for the links I will make some calls.

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