Ever since New York City was New Amsterdam, landlords have made extra money by converting unused space in their buildings into residential lofts. While many apartment-seekers gravitated toward these conversions, artists, bohemians, and other creative types were the quintessential tenants—the large, open-plan loft spaces made ideal live/work studios, and they were often to be found in emerging neighborhoods where rents were relatively cheap, even if amenities were rustic.
Converting space from a manufacturing/commercial purpose to residential usage presents certain challenges when it comes to New York City’s zoning laws and regulations. While some loft landlords and their tenants carved out comfortable, safe living spaces in cavernous industrial buildings, others maintained properties that were little better than squats—with no running water, rickety freight elevators, haphazard electrical wiring, and a host of other problems. Cue the Loft Board.
The New York City Loft Board was established in 1982, and charged with the responsibility of bringing loft housing under regulation. The New York City Council enacted Article 7-C of the Multiple Dwelling Law (MDL), also known as the Loft Law, which directed the legalization of illegal residential lofts into “interim multiple dwellings,” or IMDs. The law affected buildings previously used for commercial or manufacturing purposes that had at least three units occupied by residences between April 1980 through December 1981.
The Loft Law
According to the Loft Board’s website, “by definition, an IMD building lacks a residential certificate of occupancy.” Thus, the purpose of the Loft Law, according to the website, “is to bring buildings illegally converted to residential use into compliance with state and city housing laws relating to health, safety, and fire protection.”
The law also serves to protect tenants from eviction and out-of-control rent increases until their building can be issued a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O), which is necessary to insure a building’s compliance with applicable building codes and other housing laws. In order to obtain a revised C of O that would allow residential use of their property, a loft building owner must bring the building up to the city’s residential code, being sure to follow the construction requirements set forth in the Loft Law and New York City Building Code.