Apartment types

What is a Convertible Apartment?

Rob Whiting
Boom Team

What is a Convertible Apartment?

If you’ve ever tried to find an apartment in NYC, chances are that you’ve stumbled across the term “convertible apartment” here and there. In fact, you might have seen it used for more than one type of listing, such as “one-bedroom/convertible for two-bedroom” or “opportunity for convertible 3 bed” apartment. You might have even seen it advertised as a “flexible” apartment. So, if you’re not aware of what this term means, it can easily get confusing!

It’s important to understand what a convertible apartment is so that you know whether this kind of apartment is right for you.

The Definition of a Convertible Apartment

The definition of a convertible apartment is a bit confusing because there’s no definite layout for this type of unit. Often, it is a studio or 1-bedroom apartment that has a large enough space to accommodate a second bedroom. However, this term can also be applied to 2-bedroom apartments.

Convertible apartments are popular in large cities such as New York or Boston because there is a high demand for affordable apartments. The creative use of the space allows renters to decide whether to add another bedroom, making it attractive to small families or those who want to save on rent by having roommates.

The Difference between Convertible Apartments vs. Other Apartments

Now, you might be asking yourself, “If a convertible apartment is simply an apartment that has extra space for a second bedroom, then what makes it different from a junior-4 apartment or an alcove studio?”

The main difference is that the space must be large enough to allow for the installation of windows, and there is a strict minimum space requirement. According to NYC regulations, a bedroom must fulfill the following:

  • At least 80 square feet
  • Minimum width of 8 feet in any dimension
  • Minimum ceiling height of 8 feet
  • Space for at least one window measuring no less than 12 square feet

Most alcoves and junior-1 apartments will not meet these requirements, so owners cannot legally list them as convertible units.

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Building a Wall for Your Convertible Apartment

If you want to add another sleeping space to a convertible apartment, this will mean adding new walls to the unit. Here are some options that you can consider:

Pressurized Walls

Pressurized walls are a temporary structure that pushes against the walls and ceilings around it using a spring-loaded interior. It does not require nails or screws to be secured, making it easy to assemble on-site. Pressurized walls are popular because they are easy to install, affordable, and do not cause damage to the unit. Since they look like “real” walls, they can easily blend into the overall appearance of the apartment. On average, a pressurized wall costs anywhere from $400-$1500, depending on the labor, material, and size of the wall.

The main downside to using pressurized walls is that it has become quite difficult to get them installed in NYC. In 2005, two firemen died in an apartment containing pressurized walls. They became disoriented because the floorplan of the apartment did not show the walls and was not able to evacuate in time. Due to this tragic event, the NYC Department of Buildings restricted the installation of pressurized walls in convertible apartments.

Partial Walls

Considering the difficulties that you might encounter with pressurized walls, you might want to consider using partial walls instead. While partial walls can also be installed without using screws or nails, they stop 12 inches from the ceiling and have an opening instead of a door. Partial walls are cheaper compared to pressurized walls and you’ll have an easier time when it comes to permits or getting permission from the unit owner.

Since partial walls don’t have doors, you can use a curtain to cover the opening.

Bookshelf Walls

Instead of putting up a run-of-the-mill wall, why not be creative with the available space and put up a bookshelf wall? This type of wall comes with built-in shelving so that you have additional storage or display space for your stuff.

However, since this wall will conceivably hold up the weight, you’ll probably need to screw or nail it into the ceiling and surrounding walls.

Why Should I Get a Convertible Apartment?

The biggest benefit to getting a flexible apartment is that you have the option of converting the additional space into a second bedroom if the need arises. This is great for couples looking to start a family, a growing family, or even people with roommates.

If you don’t need to have a second bedroom yet, you can use the space for other purposes such as a home office, a gym, or even a creative studio!

What to Consider when Getting a Convertible Apartment

There’s no denying that a convertible apartment is a great find, but there are also some things that you need to consider if you plan to rent one and “flex” it. Here are three questions that you should ask before renting a convertible apartment.

What permits do I need to secure?

As mentioned above, installing temporary walls into convertible apartments can be tricky even if you don’t plan to use “real” walls. Even if you decide to use pressurized walls or other alternatives, you will need to secure a permit from the NYC Department of Buildings. You will also need to get a licensed engineer to create the plan, as well as have a licensed architect supervise and approve the installation.

Do I need to get permission from the unit owner?

Yes, you should get express and written permission from the unit owner and the building management company before you start any plans for converting a unit. If you plan to rent a unit with the purpose of converting it, you should clarify whether it is permitted before you sign the lease.

If you don’t get permission before moving forward with renovations, you might not only forfeit your deposit, you might even void your lease altogether.

Do I need to convert the apartment “back” when I move out?

This is a bit of a tricky question. In some cases, the unit owner might require to remove the temporary walls when you move out so that the apartment becomes stock for the next tenant. On the other hand, the unit owner might ask you to leave the walls so that they can list the apartment as already been converted.

As with getting permission, you should discuss this with the unit owner and have any agreements down in writing. This way, you’ll both be protected from any issues once your lease is up.

Is a Convertible Apartment Right for Me?

While there is no denying that the additional space and room for creativity are attractive, you should also consider the trade-off when it comes to getting a convertible apartment. Yes, you’ll be getting a unit that’s large and spacious, and you’ll have the option of creating a second bedroom once you need it, but you should remember that it comes with a lot of discussion with management and a significant investment.

That being said, if you’re willing to spend the money and get all the required permits, a convertible apartment is a great find in NYC!

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