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How to Find and Rent Basement Apartments: Tips, Pros, & Cons

By: Davina Ward and Emily Kho
August 23, 2021

With the rental market flooded with expensive apartment units, many prospective tenants are looking for affordable apartments. They’re willing to consider apartment units that may be a little off the beaten path — basement apartments.

Though basement apartments may have a bit of a bad rep with nicknames like “dungeon” or “spider caves,” there’s a lot more to these unique units than meets the eye.

Is renting a basement apartment right for you?

Get ready to forget everything you’ve ever heard about basement apartments. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about renting a basement apartment. That way, you can decide whether it’s the right choice for you. Here’s everything you need to know.

What is a Basement Apartment?

As the name suggests, a basement apartment is an apartment unit located on the basement floor of an apartment complex or multifamily property. True basement apartments are located below ground level. At least 50% of the apartment unit is below ground level.

Don’t get the idea that basement apartments are akin to an underground bunker. They’re not.

Basement apartments differ from cellar apartments. Those are situated below ground level with few small windows or none at all. Basement apartments have larger windows that bring in natural light from the ground level.

The natural light is significantly less ample than what you would get with an above-ground apartment. However, it makes a world of difference, especially during the summer.

The Legality of Basement Apartments

If you happen to be on the lookout for an incredible basement apartment, it’s crucial to understand the laws and regulations that a basement unit must adhere to in your municipality. Basements are prone to flooding, mold, lack of egress, and poor ventilation.

If a basement apartment is not adequately renovated to comply with safety standards, it poses a significant risk to the renter. Renovations typically include the apartment being outfitted with an egress window, a window large enough for an adult to escape out of during an emergency like a fire or flood.

Not to mention, older basement units might have a sump pump that connects to a sanitary sewer. In the event of excessive rain or a sewage backup, basement apartments may become flooded with sewage waste.

Ensuring that any basement apartment you consider during your search complies with local safety regulations is critical. It is vital to keep yourself and others safe.

Is a Basement Apartment Different from a Garden-level Apartment?

Yes, there’s a difference between a garden-level apartment and a basement apartment. However, landlords often use the terms interchangeably.

Some landlords prefer to label their basement apartment units as garden-level apartments because it sounds more attractive than a basement apartment.

Garden-level apartments are typically located between the first and the basement floors. At least half of the apartment is above ground level.

Generally, if you can stand in the apartment unit and see above ground level outside the window, the unit can be considered a garden-level apartment. This differs from basement apartments, which are situated below the first floor.

Another element of garden apartments is that they often feature entrances at the ground level and have access to a garden or outside space. Though this isn’t true for all garden apartments, it’s a key indicator for apartment hunters.

The Pros of Renting a Basement Apartment

If you come across a basement apartment during your apartment hunt, it's essential to understand all its advantages!

Here are all the pros of renting a basement apartment:

  • Affordable: Generally, basement apartments are cheaper than aboveground and garden-level apartments. Although you may lose out on certain perks like lots of natural light and great views, your wallet benefits. You usually get more bang for your buck.
  • Spacious: Basement apartments are usually more spacious than other apartments on the property, even in apartment complexes. This is because home systems such as HVAC, plumbing, and laundry units take up space for another apartment.
  • Potentially More Privacy: You’ll often get your own private entrance to your basement apartment. Additionally, if you’re renting in a single-family property, you’ll likely be the only other person utilizing the basement floor.
  • Your Landlord May Be More Open to Renovations: Renovations aren’t cheap! If you’re willing to put in the time and money to complete a basement apartment renovation, your landlord will certainly benefit. They’ll likely be incentivized to let you renovate, especially if the renovations increase the apartment’s value and amenities.
  • Easy Access: Speaking of access, basement apartments also provide easy access to street levels. Anyone who has lived in or visited a major city can appreciate the value of access to street level. When it comes to bringing home groceries, you’ll never have to worry about lugging them up multiple flights of stairs. Getting them outside for a bathroom break is much easier when you’ve got quick access to street level if you have a pet.

The Cons of Renting a Basement Apartment

There are a lot of benefits to renting a basement apartment. However, there are also many cons to consider before making a final decision.

Here are all the disadvantages of renting a basement apartment:

  • Less Natural Light: Though basements are situated somewhat aboveground, there’s a distinct lack of natural light when compared to other apartments. This can be difficult to handle in the winter months.
  • Noise Level: Generally, there’s a lack of noise insulation between the first and basement floors. This can make the noises of your upstairs neighbors seem much louder than they are. Not to mention, the sound of the sump pump kicking on during rainy weather and the roar of the HVAC system isn’t exactly quiet.
  • No Outdoor Access: No balcony or patio access for basement apartments. You’ll have to head elsewhere for your outdoor recreation.
  • Basements Can Be Prone to Flooding: Depending on the region in which your basement apartment is, it could be prone to flooding during flood season or heavy rains. Regardless of whether your sump pump is connected to the sewage system or the stormwater drainage system, your belongings will be soaked.
  • Mold Issues: Basement apartments are moist. Consistent moisture breeds mold, even if your apartment has been professionally treated. Unfortunately, this can also lead to a mildew-esque smell that lingers throughout the unit.
  • Greater Potential for Pests: Living in a basement apartment? Get used to spiders, centipedes, and other common household multi-legged pests.
  • Cool Temperatures: In the summer, basement apartments are the place to be as they’re naturally cool. However, when winter comes, expect to be freezing unless you’ve invested in a personal heater.

Tips For Living in a Basement Apartment

Though there are some challenges to living in a basement apartment, there are certainly ways to get the most out of your basement apartment. Here are some tips to help you make your basement apartment the home of your dreams!

  • Optimize Your Lighting: Investing in quality lighting is important for basement apartments. Recessed lighting and LED lights can vastly improve the lighting in a basement apartment. Strategically place standing lamps or hanging lights around your apartment to brighten it up.
  • Invest in a Dehumidifier: If you want to combat basement apartments' moisture problems, a simple dehumidifier will do the trick. For larger apartments, you may have to invest in a few dehumidifiers. However, they can be relatively low-key and do their job tucked away in a corner.
  • Don't shy away from color: Accent walls, vibrant furniture, and jewel tones will give your basement apartment an automatic boost in brightness. As the lighting in basement apartments can be poor, brightening the place up with colorful pieces can make a big difference.
  • Hang Statement Decor: Don’t be afraid to be bold when it comes to decor. Making a bold statement with a piece of decor can be a conversation starter. Not to mention, if you hang it strategically, you can draw eyes upward. That’ll give the illusion of high ceilings, especially if your apartment’s ceilings are low.
  • Search for a Daylight Basement Apartment: Daylight basement apartments have at least one large window bringing in natural light from ground level. They’re perfect for plant growers.
  • Get Your Basement Address Right!: Basements apartments utilize secondary address unit designators in their mailing addresses. Simply add the designator “BSMT” to your address. For example, 101 Main Street BSMT, Anywhere, USA 12345.

How to Find Apartments: Basement Apartments

Congratulations! You’ve decided to go ahead and seek out basement apartments. Thankfully, we’re here to help. Follow these easy steps to help you find the basement apartment of your dreams.

Start Your Search Early

Even though you might not think basement apartments are a hot ticket item, you could be mistaken. Since the cost of living in major cities continues to rise, renters seek any possible options to help accommodate their living expenses.

Budgeting for an apartment can be challenging, especially if you want to live in an urban area. Basement apartments provide an affordable option to renters in big cities and, as such, have become increasingly popular. With the increased popularity and limited availability of basement apartments, you’ll want to be sure to start your search as early as possible.

Know What You Are Looking For

When it comes time to begin your apartment hunt, you’ll want to have a good idea of what you are looking for. Some factors that you’ll need to consider as you search for basement apartments may include:

  • Amenities
  • Layout
  • Square footage
  • Location

It’s best to have a good idea of your priorities to gain a better understanding of what items you might be willing to be a bit more flexible on in your apartment search.

Searching for Listings Online

Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s time to begin searching for listings online!

Searching through listings online can be overwhelming, with so many different options to choose from. To help narrow down your selection, you can start by taking this Apartment Search Quiz. Here you’ll be able to specify different factors in your search like:

  • Number of bedrooms
  • Monthly rent maximum
  • Location (by city and neighborhood)
  • Commute (to work or school)
  • Preferred amenities (select in-unit laundry for basement apartments)
  • Parking
  • Other features (like hardwood floors, dishwasher, AC, etc.)
  • Pets
  • Priorities (choose from your features, location, or price)
  • Move-in date (you can specify urgency)
  • Lease terms (including length and additional signers)
  • Household income
  • Eviction history

Set Up Apartment Tours

From here, you’ll be able to view countless listings available in your desired area.. You’ll then want to set up apartment tours to get an idea of what you are looking at in the pictures.

Before you start your apartment tours, you’ll want to gather essential questions to ask. Having this information ready ahead of time will help take some of the pressure off when the time comes. It can be easy to forget some of the pertinent factors when you’re caught up in the moment of touring an exciting new basement apartment.

Apply and Sign Your Lease

Once you’ve found the basement apartment that checks all the boxes, it’s time to apply! If you’re wondering how to rent an apartment, it’s as simple as following these steps:

  • Fill out the application
  • Pay the application fees
  • Provide your proof of income
  • Approve a credit check
  • Approve a background check
  • Add a cosigner (if needed)
  • Provide a list of previous landlords and/or personal references
  • Pay the security deposit
  • Wait for your approval

Final Thoughts

There you have it - everything you need to know about how to find a basement apartment. Finding the perfect rental unit at an affordable price could mean that you expand your apartment hunt to include basement units. Not only do basement apartments allow renters to save big on rent, but they can also offer unique advantages over above-ground apartments.

That said, cons like a lack of natural light and a propensity for common basement issues are definitely worth considering.

The only way to determine whether a basement apartment is right for you is to determine everything you need in an apartment. If you want a quick commute, amenities like a gym, or in-unit laundry, Apartment List can help you find an apartment with them all.

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Davina Ward is a contributing author at Apartment List and freelance writer specializing in real estate and digital marketing. She received her B. Read More
Emily is a professionally trained SEO writer who covers a wide range of topics but specializes in business and hospitality content. With over a decade of professional writing experience in the hospitality industry, Emily comes from a strong background in the field backed with a BS from the world-renowned William F. Read More
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