Rooftop Social Spaces An Evergreen Amenity

Jack and his wife Rachel live in Chicago, happy in a two-bedroom, two-bath condo with a parking spot. Assessments are criminally low, the building is dog friendly and it is literally a half block from a Chicago train stop. While they have a small balcony off the master bedroom that they enjoy in the warmer months by planting a small herb garden and semi-successful tomatoes, and sunbathing on the weekends, they knew that just two floors above them existed a true Eden: a gorgeous rooftop deck shared by the two penthouse units. 

Rachel first experienced it during a condo meeting. “In a word, it’s exquisite,” she says. “There are wraparound views of the whole city, including Lake Michigan and enough room for ample deck furniture and a grill. You can see Wrigley Field!” Jack was also taken by the space. “You experience the city a little differently when you can see it privately from above,” he adds.  

So when one of their penthouse neighbors put their unit up for sale last fall, Jack and Rachel were intrigued. “We couldn’t afford it at all, and we love our current place, but we couldn’t help but consider it simply for that roof deck,” says Rachel. They checked out the unit during an open house, and on closer inspection decided they didn’t love the layout or design enough to tip the scales, but it still feels like the one that got away. “I hope the new guy who lives there has many, many summer parties. We’ll be at every one of them,” says Jack. 

Way Up There

The roof of a multifamily building can be the source of pain (leaking, caving, peeling) and pleasure (views, summer grilling, sunbathing sans gawkers). Regardless of whether it’s just tar paper and gravel, or a fully-finished social space with all the trimmings, it’s the first line of defense against whatever the skies and wind bring down. And if it is as lovely as Jack and Rachel’s just-out-of-grasp roof, it can also bear the brunt of more wear-and-tear than a rooftop that only sees the occasional HVAC repair man or flock of pigeons. They key to enjoying your roof through the seasons, from 4th of July fetes to waterlogged spring showers is maintenance, maintenance, and – you guessed it – maintenance. 

A lot more of your neighbors enjoy rooftops than you might realize. Michael Kaspar, regional sales manager at Allied Building Products in Hicksville, New York, speculates that a good estimate would be 60 to 70 percent of the rooftops in the New York City and Chicago metro regions are used as an amenity space, i.e. a space where building residents and their guests are allowed to congregate. He notes that while “there is a lot of speculation out there as to percentages and square footages, with no exact data from industry professionals, each region has roughly five to seven million square feet of amenity space rooftops.”           


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  • Have you considered that anyone, including strangers, can gain access to a doorman building, take the fire stairs to the roof level and then drop down to the apartments with balconies and terraces 1 floor below, burglarize those apartments and then exit the building, etc. This happened twice in the building where I have an apartment. Thereafter, at the recommendation of the NYC Police Department and with the approval of the NYC Building Department, alarmed gates were installed on the fire stairs leading to the roof -- thereby cutting off access to the roof above the penthouse apartments. Since the installation of those alarmed gates, no more burglaries have occurred to top floor apartments. What sounds like a good idea at first impression may have very bad physical safety consequences on building residents!!!