Recent college graduates, young professionals, and New York City transplants are always looking for affordable apartments and living spaces in New York City to fit their tight budgets. The reality is that most people end up taking on a roommate to afford a nicer apartment. While there are a variety of options that New Yorkers can employ to make smaller apartments comfortable for roommates, one of the most popular "tricks" that is commonly used is to erect temporary walls, to comfortably divide the living space. Temporary walls can include the installation of a partial wall, a bookshelf wall, or a temporary pressurized wall, all of which bring a little privacy to a shared living space.
A temporary pressurized wall is defined as a temporary wall that goes from floor to ceiling but is not permanently affixed. Specifically, it doesn't interfere with the ventilation, sprinkler system, or means of egress (exits) in an apartment. For years, New Yorkers used temporary pressurized walls as a sort of high-class room divider.
According to the DOB, a temporary wall must be non-load bearing. That just means that the wall is not supporting the ceiling and does not support any significant structural weight. According to the NYC Housing Maintenance Code, when installing a temporary pressurized wall, you must ensure the following:
- Each bedroom must be at least 80 square feet.
- The living room must be larger than the minimum amount of space required.
- A temporary wall must be installed so that it does not damage the permanent wall must be installed without the use of no nails, screws, etc.
- The room must have a window that faces outside (for both natural light and ventilation).
- There must be a means of egress (escape) in case of an emergency
- Pass-through bedrooms are not allowed when constructing a temporary pressurized wall.
Overall, pressurized walls have all the benefits of real walls, but they are temporary, making them a potentially ideal solution for loft spaces and apartments.
A partial wall is a temporary solution great and a compromise because a lot of buildings won't allow for the installation of pressurized walls (more on that later). Similar to pressurized walls, partial walls are installed without screws or nails. Partial walls typically stop approximately 12 inches from the ceiling (or more) as required by the landlord and New York City law. Additionally, a partial wall will have an opening and not a door, which, admittedly, is not as aesthetically pleasing so you may have to get creative when it comes to creating additional privacy.
Bookshelf walls are a favorite amongst New Yorkers who are looking to carve out additional rooms/sections and create extra storage space. Typically, a bookshelf wall is any type of temporary wall that has attached shelving. These are popular for obvious reasons; 1) you get a wall to divide the apartment, and 2) you get extra storage space for books and decorations, and 3) they make the apartment decor interesting.
Both of the options mentioned above can, fortunately, transform a one-bedroom apartment into a two-bedroom apartment and so forth. However, only a pressurized wall attaches to the ceiling and has the overall look and feel of a real wall. Additionally, another benefit is the convenience of additional privacy.
Unfortunately, In 2005, in a New York City fire, two firemen died because the pressurized walls in the apartment were not shown on the current floor plan filed with the DOB, so the firefighters became confused when attempting to put out the fire. As a result, New York City DOB had to evaluate the use of pressurized walls and implement provisions for its use in the housing maintenance codes. Consequently, some landlords are now hesitant to allow temporary pressurized walls. Although some may still allow for the installation of a full wall, it's become much more common for landlords to only approve partial walls and bookshelf walls, due to the fact that neither requires the same bureaucracy to install as a full wall. Actually, installing a full, pressurized wall requires jumping through all the same hoops as installing a permanent wall, which means getting approval from the DOB.
If your landlord allows partial walls or bookshelf walls all you'll need to do is find and hire a company to install one. You won't need any permissions from the city as partial walls are considered room partitions and bookshelf walls are considered furniture (assuming there is at least a 12-inch gap between the bookshelf wall and ceiling).
The cost of getting a temporary or pressurized wall installed in NYC depends on a number of factors, including the size, type of wall, height, and other customizations. In general, you can be looking at anywhere from $1,000 to $3,500 to install a temporary wall in NYC. There are several add-on features that you can choose, but in general, you can select the following door styles with window:
- sliding, pocket,
- standard, and
- single- or double-pane French doors)
Temporary pressurized walls are typically around 5 inches thick and can support up to 30 pounds. However, keep in mind that you can have the wall reinforced for mounting heavier objects such as a flat-screen TV.
You can also customize a wall with special soundproofing so that it mimics a permanent wall.
Prefabricated walls, which have seams, are cheaper and have a faster turn around time for installation. However, keep in mind that seamless walls blend in better with permanent walls, and the ceiling and overall look more like "real walls" if that's a concern for you.
Keep in mind that typically the temporary wall will be painted white unless you request and pay for a custom color. Usually, you will have to supply the company with the paint, and they will take care of the rest.
Under New York City building codes, if you or your landlord want to install a temporary pressurized wall(s), your landlord will have to obtain the proper permits and obtain a new Certificate of Occupancy from the NYC Department of Buildings. A Certificate of Occupancy (commonly called a CO) is a document issued by the NYC DOB, which certifies that the building/apartment has complied with the applicable building codes and is safe for its prescribed use. Typically, most COs are issued after the fire marshal has inspected the building/apartment, and an electrical inspection has occurred.
Consequently, this means that the landlords are required to have a registered architect or professional engineer submit the plans to the buildings department. Keep in mind that the wall cannot be installed until DOB issues a permit.
Due to the tedious process, you will find that many NYC landlords and management companies steer clear of allowing temporary walls. However, if you're planning to add additional rooms to your apartment, you should check directly with management and your real estate agent before you sign a new lease. You may be able to negotiate the installation of a temporary wall, especially if you sign a longer lease.
In any event, do not attempt to install a wall without permission because this is considered an illegal conversion.
According to the DOB, "Illegal conversions are living spaces that have been altered to allow additional occupancy without DOB approval or adequate life-safety protections. These units often lack a minimum of two means of egress, proper windows and ventilation, and may have illegal and unsafe gas, electrical, and plumbing systems."
Overall, converting living spaces within an NYC apartment is illegal and can cause several fines by the DOB and is possibly a violation of your lease if you fail to obtain your landlord's approval before installing.
Good news, if your landlord allows the installation of temporary pressurized walls, follow these steps to have your wall(s) installed in your apartment seamlessly.
Step 1: Become familiar with all the legal aspects of the process and follow the DOB regulations for installing a temporary pressurized wall.
Step 2: Don't rely on your broker's word and get approval from the management company on whether the landlord allows a temporary wall. Verify this before you sign your lease, to avoid disappointment. If you're lucky and your landlord allows the installation of a pressurized wall (or several), your first step is to find out what style the building/landlord allows. Also, don't be afraid to ask the landlord if they have a company they work with or recommend. Using a company that your landlord has worked with in the past could make the entire process a lot easier.
Step 3: Work out the cost/budget with your roommate(s). There are several companies in New York City that specialize in temporary walls. Depending on the size and the type of materials (such as soundproofing), ceiling height, and customizations requested quality walls can cost as much as $1,000-$3,500. You'll have the option to lease some walls for up to three years or yearly with renewal fees. However, you may want to consider purchasing the wall outright, especially if you plan to stay in the apartment longterm.
Be sure you have the documentation clearly explains the process and cost (if applicable) for taking the wall down and if you are required to leave a security deposit if you are leasing the wall etc. Also, be clear on how much notice may be needed for the company to take down the wall.
Step 4: Explore your options with a few different companies to get an idea of the cost and options that fit your budget. Spend the extra time to ensure that you find a reputable company.
Step 5: Present the options to your landlord/property manager and come to a written agreement on which kind of wall you will be installing.
Step 6: Work with your landlord in hiring an architect who will submit the plans to the DOB for approval. (if the landlord doesn't already have one.)
Step 7: Once the wall has been approved, coordinate with the building to ensure that you reserve the service elevator if there is one. Have your payment ready because it is required on the day of installation.
Keep in mind that unless your apartment is vacant before you take possession and begin your occupancy, you may have to wait until you've moved into the apartment to have the wall installed. As such, you should ensure that the areas are clear where the wall will be erected.