I Have a Basement Apartment, Now What?

As New York City keeps growing, so does the need for affordable apartments. Almost 40% of the new housing built in New York City from 1990 to 2005 were illegal apartments. Most were basement apartments: two family homes with the basement rented out to a third family. These underground apartments are an important source of affordable housing for many low-income residents and recent immigrants. But some can also be dangerous, and,because of their immigration status, tenants are often afraid to get help when things go wrong.   

In 2009, CUP teaching artist Hatuey Ramos-Fermín worked with students from College Now at Hostos to investigate why these apartments exist, whether they’re good or bad, and what to do if you live in one. Armed with cameras and questions, the group talked to the Department of Buildings about the city’s building code and the dangers of basement apartments; they chatted with Chhaya about the need for affordable housing; and interviewed the Urban Justice Center about how laws could make it easier to legalize basement apartments. 

The group discovered that solving problems between tenants and landlords in basement apartments is really hard. In response, students created a choose-your-own adventure comic book about what happens when something goes wrong in a basement apartment. Students translated the comic into Haitian Creole, Spanish, and Bangla. The group presented their work at a Make the Road NY community meeting in Jackson Heights. The comic book is being distributed by Chhaya CDC to members of the South Asian community. 

Get your copy of the comic book here.

Resources & Links

Chhaya is dedicated to creating stable and sustainable communities by increasing civic participation and addressing the housing and community development needs of New Yorkers of South Asian origin and their neighbors.

Community Mediation Services in Queens, NY has a holistic approach to conflict resolution.

Funding Support

This project was made possible with public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; and a grant from the American Architectural Foundation’s Accent on Architecture Community Grants Program, sponsored by CNA Insurance Companies and Victor O. Shinnerer & Company

Special Thanks

Seema Agnani, Shan Rehman (Chhaya CDC), Harvey Epstein (Urban Justice Center), Donald Ranshte, Shinauh Bishmouhl, Damien Titus (Department of Buildings), Felipe Idrogo, Mark Foggin, Elizabeth Hopkins, Sunita Prasad, Maniza Pritila


  • CUP
  • Teaching Artist
  • Hatuey Ramos-Fermín
  • Project Lead
  • Valeria Mogilevich
  • Project Support
  • John Mangin
  • Rosten Woo
Teaching Assistants

April Lee

Marlisa Wise

Prisilla Siregar

Katie Priebe

  • College Now at Hostos
  • Students
  • Crystal Afriyie

    Iris Camarillo

    Martina Carrillo

    Jose Chávez

    Soraya Angie Chouloute

    Taína Chouloute

    Mohamed Keita

    Aurelie Kengne

    Monica Lindsay

    Laura López

    Rodrigo López

    Shatai Melvin

    Ignacio Mercado

    Saleem Mohamed

    Diandra Nicholas

    Jessica Vergara

    Adriana Vidlas

    Briget Whittaker

  • Director
  • Elizabeth Wilson

  • Assistant Director
  • Amaris Matos

  • Staff
  • Flor Ortega