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Features

340 East 83rd Street, #3B  (Compass) 340 East 83rd Street, #3B (Compass)
Arriving in New York City often entails learning a new vocabulary, and this holds especially true when it comes to housing. From acronyms such as EIK (eat-in kitchen) to euphemisms such as “open-concept living/dining area” (this means that the kitchen is in the living room or that there may be no living room at all), new city residents generally have a lot to learn. But perhaps the most common housing jargon used in New York City are the adjectives “convertible” and “flex.”

What one soon discovers—often only after a disappointing apartment viewing—is that “convertible one bedroom” or “flex one bedroom” technically refers to a studio, and likewise, a “convertible two bedroom” or “flex two bedroom” technically refers to a one bedroom. Unlike most studios or one bedroom units, however, these convertible or flex options are theoretically large enough to be converted into units with an additional room.

Until 2005, flexing an apartment, which once entailed installing a pressurized wall (nearly always at the tenant’s own expense), was a common practice. But the climate changed after a devastating 2005 fire in the Bronx that killed two firefighters. An investigation into the fire revealed that illegally divided rooms were largely to blame for the fatalities, since the illegally divided rooms had confused the firefighters, preventing them from escaping. Since the 2005 fire, which resulted in the building’s former and current owners along with two tenants being charged with manslaughter, many owners and management companies have put the brakes on tenants installing temporary walls, but this doesn’t mean that flexing has stopped. In fact, temporary wall companies appear to be thriving just as much as they were over a decade ago. One difference is where pressurized walls were once the go-to option for flexing an apartment, sliding walls, sliding doors, and freestanding bookshelves are now the preferred way to flex.

↓ 340 East 83rd Street, #3B — $350,000

Yorkville | Studio, 1 Bath (Convertible 1BD/1BA) | Co-op
(Compass)
340 East 83rd Street, #3B 340 East 83rd Street, #3B (Compass)
Convertible 1BD/1BA with tall ceilings, spacious layout, southern exposure, generous closets, open kitchen w/ breakfast nook, and a location a block from the 2nd Avenue Subway. See more info here.

1. Is flexing an apartment still legal?

Technically, if you want to alter your unit, you need to get the green light from the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) and adhere to all the same criteria needed to install a permanent wall. In other words, if you want to install a new wall, you’ll need to contract with a licensed engineer or architect who will draw up a plan, have the wall installed, and then have a licensed engineer or architect inspect and approve the work in compliance with DOB standards. If you’re installing a wall to carve out an extra bedroom, it will also need to meet the legal definition of a bedroom in New York City—this means the room must be at least 80 square feet and have at least one window. Finally, if you think you don’t need a living area, think again. After the conversion, you legally must still have a living room and in most cases, it must be at least 150 square feet. Finally, if the creation of your new room in any way interferes with your ventilation or sprinkler system, it won’t be legal.

In theory, a tenant could—with their owner’s and management company’s approval—go through the expense, time, and cost of legally installing a wall, but of course, this is not how the vast majority of apartments are flexed.
Image: www.wall2wallny.com

2. What options are available for legally flexing an apartment?

Most flexed apartments are no longer flexed using a pressurized wall but rather flexed using one or more of the following options: a wall that comes up to the ceiling; a sliding wall or door; or a freestanding bookshelf unit. Since many of these options are manufactured and installed by the same companies who once specialized in pressurized walls, the end result is often similar but with one notable difference—in most cases, these options are technically in compliance with DOB standards. This reflects the somewhat murky way in which “wall” is defined. Technically, if a wall doesn’t reach the ceiling, is not permanently attached, or can pass as furniture—as is true of free-standing bookshelves—your flex is probably legal, even if it has the effect of radically altering the layout and potential use of your apartment.

3. Do I need to get permission from my board, owner or management company?

It is highly advisable that you get the green light from your owner and/or management company prior to flexing your unit. If you rent in a condo or co-op also double-check to ensure your building’s board approves your plan. If your owner, management company, or board doesn’t approve, your potentially costly investment in a partial wall, sliding wall, or freestanding bookshelf that function as a wall may be lost. Also, it is important to note that most reputable companies that build and install temporary and sliding walls or freestanding bookshelf dividers will ask you to get approval from the unit’s owner and/or building management prior to doing any work in your unit.

4. Am I responsible for removing the wall when I move?

This is a tricky question. If the incoming tenants are excited about the additional wall and the owners have, in fact, benefited from the ability to rent out your apartment as an already legally flexed unit, you’ll probably not experience any problems. However, since most leases contain a clause requiring you to leave the unit in the same conditions you rented it in, if you fail to remove a partial wall, sliding wall, or freestanding bookshelf-divider you could be held responsible and as a result, lose your security deposit. As a rule, this is something you should also discuss with your owner or management company at the time you ask for permission to do the installation.

5. What is the typical cost of flexing and what’s the potential return on investment?

Partial walls and freestanding bookshelf dividers often start at just over $1,000 but bear in mind that you get what you pay for. In other words, pricier options generally look less like temporary walls and more like permanent walls. Also, as you might expect, the larger the wall and the more features—for example, the integration of built-in bookshelves, doors, sliding doors, or windows—all add to the price. If you want to opt for a sliding door from a company like Raydoor or a custom-designed Japanese sliding wall from the master builders at Miya Shoji, you’ll likely pay at least $4,000..

Whether you’ll ever see a return on investment depends on how long you stay in your flexed unit. If, for example, you spend $5,000 to legally flex a $3,000 one-bedroom apartment into a two-bedroom apartment in a neighborhood where two-bedrooms generally start at $3,500, over five years, your initial $5,000 investment could result in a savings of $25,000 or more.

Charming pre-war convertible 2-bedroom in a fabulous location! An expansive entry foyer leads to an enormous sunken living room featuring reclaimed wood accents and vintage pendant lighting. An open kitchen is equipped with stainless steel appliances and Ceasarstone countertops, and the custom breakfast bar offers a delightful space for casual dining.

The master bedroom can easily accommodate a king-sized bed, and an enormous walk-in closet is just outside the bedroom offering ample storage space. Off the foyer, French pocket doors lead to a windowed home office, which could also serve as a guest room or nursery.

Additional apartment features include beamed ceilings, crown moldings, south and west exposures, double-paned windows, and hardwood floors throughout.

↓ Fairview Court, 3117 Broadway, #23 — $649,000 ($649 per ft2)

Washington Heights | Co-op | 2 beds, 1 bath | 1,000 ft2
This charming 2nd-floor apartment is freshly painted and ready for you to move in or have it your way, bring love and your imagination to this spacious floor-thru home featuring five rooms, two bedrooms (conv. 3), approximately 1000 SF is in good original condition & has incredible potential with great bones. Currently configured as a 2 Br with separate Living & Dining rooms, easily convertible to a 3 bedroom or open it all up for a large open kitchen, living and dining area (24 X 15 approx.).

↓ 130 Water Street, #3K — $899,000 (-5.4%)

Financial District | 2 beds, 1 bath | Condo
Beautifully renovated convertible 2 bedroom condo in a very convenient location in the Financial District. This unit has a very flexible layout, with a generous bedroom, and is currently configured with an additional home office/ second bedroom and custom made dining table with a seating area. Beautiful new floors throughout and excellent closet space.

↓ Regent House, 25 West 54th Street, #9F — $900,000

Midtown West | 2 beds, 2 baths | 1,185 ft2) | Co-op
Just Reduced to $900K! Massive Convertible 3-bedroom just off 5th Avenue! This spacious Art Deco 2 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom co-op has three exposures, high ceilings, and hardwood floors. The home was just updated with new central air/heating units as well as double-paned windows throughout.

↓ 274 22nd Street, #3 — $999,000

Greenwood Heights | 3 beds, 2 baths | Condo
Sleek and stunning, brand new boutique condo development in the sought-after Greenwood section of Park Slope, featuring 4 wonderful luxury residences with upscale modern finishes and private outdoor space. Don't let the opportunity to grab one of these jewel-box apartments and call it home. Slip away, in a quality-built, meticulously-designed intimate building boasting a common rooftop deck and low carrying costs!

↓ The Excelsior, 303 East 57th Street, #28B — $735,000

Midtown East | 2 beds, 2.5 baths | Land lease Co-op
Perched on a high floor, this corner apartment of about 1800 square feet, has 4 exposures and a private balcony overlooking the City and the East River. One can experience the magnificent sights of the city skyline, colorful sunsets, and partial Central Park Views. The floor plan of this 2 Bedroom(convertible 3), 2.5 Bathroom apartment offers an open Foyer, a large Living Room, a separate Dining Room with views of the Chrysler Building, and a windowed Kitchen.

↓ 205 East 63rd Street, #10D — $895,000 (-30.9%)

Lenox Hill | 2 beds, 2 baths | Co-op
This spacious sunny move-in condition two-bedroom, convertible 3 bedroom, two-bath apartment is in the most desired line in the building. The flexible open layout includes a huge living room, entry foyer, bay-windowed dining area, renovated windowed modern kitchen, renovated bathrooms in excellent condition, abundance of closet space throughout the unit (including a bike room), and a laundry space with the washer/dryer grandfathered in. This home is sun-filled throughout the day with East, South and West exposures providing bright light and open city views to enjoy throughout the day and into the evening.

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Contributing Writer Cait Etherington Cait Etherington has over twenty years of experience working as a journalist and communications consultant. Her articles and reviews have been published in newspapers and magazines across the United States and internationally. An experienced financial writer, Cait is committed to exposing the human side of stories about contemporary business, banking and workplace relations. She also enjoys writing about trends, lifestyles and real estate in New York City where she lives with her family in a cozy apartment on the twentieth floor of a Manhattan high rise.
Luxury Homes in Midtown | Newly Renovated Studio-2BR Homes View Property
Spacious 1 Bedrooms with outdoor space and in-residence w/d View Property
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