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How to Move into a Basement Apartment

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While basement apartments may conjure up the image of dank and dreary dwellings, many renters opt to take advantage of their often lower rental rates. You can often find a basement apartment with higher square-footage or in a high-cost area for less money per month than other higher-situated apartments.

If you are planning a move into a basement apartment, read on for some tips on what to look for, what to ask your landlord prior to moving in, and how to make your space feel as airy and light as a loft.

Is it Legal?

Before moving into a basement apartment, you should verify that the landlord is legally permitted to rent the space to you. Local zoning laws and regulations require rented portions of single-family properties to undergo inspections to ensure the apartment is up-to-code. If the landlord has not received the required certifications, the apartment may have ill-functioning heating and plumbing systems or unsafe conditions. You will also be without any of your renter's rights if you are residing in an illegal apartment.

Sharing the Space

Since basement apartments are typically located in your landlord's home, you will be sharing common space. You should inquire about any rules regarding the use of this space, such as parking permission, backyard use, access to laundry facilities, and utility bill responsibilities. If you will be sharing the same water, heating, and electric systems, the costs should be included in your rent. You don't want to be paying an unfair portion of these bills if your usage is lower than your landlord's.

Flooding and Pests

Basements are prone to many inconveniences, such as flooding. Heavy rain, faulty plumbing, and other factors can cause a basement apartment to sustain severe damage. Ask your landlord prior to moving in if the basement has the tendency to flood and any precautions they have taken to prevent the occurrence. Mold and mildew can also be a serious problem resulting from excessive moisture, and should certainly be inquired about before moving in. Insect and other pest infestations are another common problem in basement dwellings. Ask your landlord about past pest troubles, and what steps they have taken to keep the property pest-free in the future.


Basement apartments often have a higher risk of break-ins due to the easily accessible ground-level windows and often inadequate locks. Ask your landlord about the safety measures taken in the apartment to ensure that you and your belongings will be secure. All entrances and windows should be equipped with strong, sturdy locks--including any entrance to your apartment from the home's interior. Other important safety features include smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and a designated escape route in the event of a fire.

Light and Space

Once you move into your cozy basement dwelling, you may want to take decorative steps to increase the feeling of light and space. Basement apartments can often feel dark, drab and claustrophobic, but there are many ways to create the illusion of an airy room.
  • Varied light sources. While there is no substitute for sunlight filtering through your windows, you can recreate the dappled effect in a basement apartment. Having an eclectic combination of lighting fixtures and lamps will fill your apartment with a variance of highlights and lowlights. Mix shaded table lamps, ambient up-lighting, and adjustable track-lighting to achieve this look effectively.
  • Contrasting colors. Decorating the room with a monotone color scheme will make the space seem flat. Light-colored, simple backgrounds with bright pops of color in your decor will increase the feeling of spaciousness. If you paint the walls a light color, use darker, richer or more vibrant shades to add depth to your room. Paint moldings, accent walls, or add focal pieces such as throw pillows, area rugs or lamps. Keep the scheme simple--too many colors will create a cluttered feel. You should also avoid busy patterns or wallpaper in a basement apartment. Of course, before beginning any of these alterations, be sure that you are permitted to paint the walls or make any other changes in your apartment.
  • Hang mirrors. An old standby, hanging mirrors in a small area will certainly make it feel larger. Adoring your walls with a combination of several differently-sized and shaped mirrors will give the illusion of a much bigger place by increasing the depth. However, avoid hanging too many--keep it simple.
  • Keep it uncluttered. Clutter never fails to make a space feel cramped. Use closed storage to give your apartment a stream-lined appearance, and keep knick-knacks and other decorative items to a minimum. Keep wall decorations basic by hanging several simple mirrors or pieces of artwork--overdoing it will give your walls a jumbled appearance. Use as few pieces of furniture in your decor as possible. All furniture should have some utility--if its purpose is simply decorative, you don't need it.

Nicole La Capria  Posted by Nicole La Capria on August 1, 2013

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