The Pros and Cons of a Basement Apartment

If you’ve never experienced the joys of living in a basement apartment, I’m here to tell you about them.

And yes, that’s sarcasm.

Of course, every apartment situation is going to be different, but here are a few of the pros and cons of living in a basement apartment.

TL;DR – I’d probably advise against it, unless you have earplugs or you’re not home very much.

The Pros

Privacy, for the most part. Basement apartments typically have tiny windows, so most people aren’t going to be creepin’ on you. It also offers more privacy than if you had to share a house or apartment with someone else.

Separate entrance. Most of the basement apartments I looked at had separate entrances either on the side or back of the house. This again lends to privacy, and the feeling that you’re not invading your landlord’s personal space too much.

They are usually kept cool. There were only a handful of days during the summer that I felt unbearably hot. There’s one fan in the living room and that’s usually enough for me. However, during the winter, it does get fairly cold (although I’m cold most of the time). The tiled floor right outside the bedroom is kind of a shock in the morning. Little eating area

The space. In general, the basement apartments I viewed had a decent amount of space. It just depends on how they’re laid out. I saw quite a few with hallways that spanned what seemed like the entire basement. This one: no hallways, more use of space. In any case, it’s more than enough for me – one bedroom/one bathroom with a fairly roomy living room.

The stairs. If you live in anything above two floors high, you probably have to climb a decent amount of stairs. That makes moving infinitely more difficult (source: I rented third-floor apartments after this). There were a tiny flight of stairs to deal with, that were thankfully wide enough to fit everything with no issue.

The Cons

Being able to hear everything going on upstairs (including talking). I’m sure it depends on the house, and how many people live above you and how active they are, but unfortunately, the family is rather noisy.

There’s a young daughter interested in gymnastics along with a very hyper golden retriever. This makes for loud bumps, often, and sometimes when company is over it sounds like a stampede. There were times it got to the point where I wanted to leave and find something to do. I just can’t concentrate with things like that going on, and I really didn’t think it would be this bad.

I am so, so grateful that they’re always gone for the day during weekends so I can have some peace and quiet.

The lack of light. I always kept my window shade down in my room at my parents house, never really caring for light that much. Now, I definitely miss it. There’s nothing like having the sun shine through on a beautiful morning. My cats enjoy basking in the sun, and it sucks that they don’t get much of it.

The apartment isn’t gloomy at all, but it does make a difference. There are only four windows and a door that light can come through.

The lack of ventilation. Basement apartments are at risk of smelling, but there’s a dehumidifier that takes the worry out of that. Sometimes it can still get rather stuffy and it would be nice to have some cross-ventilation with the little windows. Unfortunately, opening them doesn’t help much – you barely ever feel a breeze.

I also would have loved to have a storm door so that we could open the actual door – both for light and for breeze.

KitchenThe lack of windows. To tie the two points above together, it really comes down to a lack of windows, and lack of full-sized ones at that. This is an obvious one, but it’s so important. I would love to have a nice view of anything at this point, or a door/window to open to feel closer to nature outside.

The potential for bugs. Basements tend to attract spiders and other gross-ass insects. There have been several spiders in the bathroom, and I found quite a few hanging from weird places in the kitchen. I also ran into (more like away from) two centipedes. That gets a big fat nope from me.

Sprinklers. This is going to sound odd, but it’s something I never considered. In the summer, this is a major inconvenience. The landlord has the sprinklers turned on between 8 and 9pm. This is usually when I go out shopping or walking.

So I have to sit and wait for them to pass and then run out (there’s a backyard entrance, so I have to cross BOTH lawns). If you’re not bothered by getting soaked, that’s great, but it can be a nuisance when you can’t see too well because it’s dark out.

The ceiling height. I’m 5’9” – if I stretch, I can touch the ceiling. This isn’t something that bothers me as I knew what I was getting into beforehand, and all basement apartments will vary on this. My best advice is to walk around and make sure you don’t feel claustrophobic. It should go without saying, but don’t rent something sight-unseen.

Conclusion

I wrote this when I was two months into living in this apartment. It’s been three years, and I can’t say that I have fond memories of the place. I went on to prioritize actual apartments when I moved the next few times around, and while there were some noisy neighbors, I never experienced the disturbances that I did here.

That is, until living in an actual house with assholes for neighbors. (Go figure.)

I more than likely wouldn’t rent another basement apartment again unless there were some serious soundproofing methods in place. Especially now that I work from home – random crashes are something I don’t want to have to deal with.

The best thing about basement apartments is that they’re usually cheaper. I would highly recommend weighing the trade-offs to see what wins out: price, peace and quiet, or privacy (if your other option is a house-share situation).

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35 Comments

  1. DC @ Young Adult Money August 19, 2013 at 6:56 AM

    I definitely appreciate you writing this post! We bought our first house last Fall and one of the selling points for us was that it had a basement rental setup. It’s basically just one giant room with a kitchenette and connected bathroom (walk-in closet, too). I hear you about the lack of light. I am seriously considering paying someone to put in a huge window in one of the walls (our neighbors house is identical to ours and they have a large window where we only have a wall). I think it would add a lot to the basement and like you said, add some ventilation. I tested sounds both downstairs and upstairs and it almost seems like the prior owner soundproofed a bit because I hear almost nothing unless it’s the bathroom vent. Basement rentals can be tough sells but like you said it can be a good temporary solution and hopefully if we keep pouring money into it we will have a quality rental for years to come.

    Reply
    1. E.M. August 19, 2013 at 11:05 AM

      That is great you can’t hear much down there! I am not sure if it works both ways for us – if our landlord’s can hear us talking – but it can be weird. I heard our landlord yelling at her daughter yesterday…oops!

      My boyfriend’s mom has a basement apartment, and she has the egress window in the bedroom (she also has a storm door). The tenant had blackout curtains over it, so that kind of defeated the purpose. I would love to have one! Walk-in closets are also a HUGE plus. Storage was on the top of our list when we were looking.

      Reply
  2. Thomas | Your Daily Finance August 19, 2013 at 7:10 AM

    I think for the short time and if I was saving money I would not mind dealing with the basement. The only problem I would have with the sprinklers is if its like the sewer/city recycle water that smells. Who wants to get wet with that. All and all I could live with it though the wifey wouldn’t want to hear or have people hear our business. And the no windows would really put her down. Hey you know what you are getting into so basically there are no surprises.

    Reply
    1. E.M. August 19, 2013 at 11:01 AM

      We aren’t actually saving money – this was one of the more expensive apartments we looked at (they were asking less for one person). With all utilities included, plus cats, we figured it was worth it. I am sure in most other areas they are less expensive – I guess it depends on how updated it is. Our apartment is only one year old, so it is in good condition. Thankfully our water is fine and people love to run through sprinklers on hot days! I couldn’t imagine having sprinklers spraying stinky water around…

      Reply
  3. Michelle August 19, 2013 at 7:29 AM

    We rented a house when we first moved out, but the only bedroom in the whole house was actually in the basement. Our basement at that time was not as nice as yours though!

    Reply
    1. E.M. August 19, 2013 at 10:58 AM

      That’s so strange that the bedroom was in the basement of all places! When/if we move, we are looking into the possibility of renting an entire house, since that option is pretty inexpensive in the location we are considering.

      Reply
  4. Holly@ClubThrifty August 19, 2013 at 7:49 AM

    Our first apartment was the upstairs of a funeral home (Greg was doing his mortuary internship). It was clean and nice…but creepy =)

    Reply
    1. E.M. August 19, 2013 at 10:57 AM

      Haha, that is definitely an interesting place to live!

      Reply
  5. cj August 19, 2013 at 8:45 AM

    EM!! Our first apt was a tiny one BR in downtown Albany, NY. Wish our rent was still $500!!! The lack of light you mention in a basement apt would simply be a deal breaker. Sunshine is essential to human animals. No denying human nature, even if it saves a ton of money!

    Have a hoopla of a Monday!

    Reply
    1. E.M. August 19, 2013 at 10:57 AM

      You are spot on with the lighting situation. I am thankful our landlord’s at least painted the walls a light color. It is more pleasant/less dark than other apartments we had looked at, but I would love sliding glass doors next time around. Having some space outside would be nice as well.

      Reply
  6. Jamie V August 19, 2013 at 9:20 AM

    My first apartment was a basement apartment in a 6 story 1920’s building on the corner of a really busy intersection, so I can relate to each and every item on your list. For me, it was terrible: My particular unit had originally been the maids quarters back in the day so there was no sound-proofing between mine and the other basement apartments, nor the one above me. No smell-proofing, either, and in my bedroom, there was a huge hole in the wall covered by a thin plank of wood, attached partly by rusted nails falling out of the wall, that led into a long, dark concrete hall with tons of pipes (when workers had to go in there, they’d leave the light on overnight which shined into my bedroom and thus I had to sleep in the hotter, noisier living room). I had to go through the buildings front or back door and then down the dank stairs into the dark hallway to get to my front door, and that door was the only entrance/exit, right across from my drug-dealing neighbors who had “business associates” coming at all hours (I lived in terror). I had tiny windows which were even with the sidewalk outside, so when I had my windows open for any ventilation/breeze whatsoever, I could smell all the cigarettes that were there and hear conversations and see up short skirts/hear farts. Also, the windows had bars on the outside to make the building look more classic, as it had 80 years ago, but that also meant that if there was a fire and my door was blocked, I couldn’t escape through the windows. How ridiculous (and yes, it was illegal to have less than 2 exits). My ceiling was allllll the pipes, and they were so poorly insulated that when it was snowing outside (the windows were not set properly so it would also snow in to my rooms) that I was boiling alive like a lobster. There were so many things wrong/illegal, and it was torture to go there at the end of the workday. By the end of my lease when they asked about renewal (and stated a huge raise in rent!), I declined and wrote them a 5-page letter outlining all the “immediate” problems, and an outline of what else could be fixed to improve the quality of the apartment space. I never heard anything back. I now live in a much better place with windows/light galore and a private entrance and no one above me. I definitely learned a lot that first time around!

    Reply
    1. E.M. August 19, 2013 at 10:55 AM

      Oh wow!! That sounds absolutely horrible, I’m sorry you had to experience something like that! I am glad my basement apartment is in a house – I don’t think I could live in one in an actual commercial building. I don’t think I would have lasted there at all. Glad you’re in a better living situation now!

      Reply
  7. Andrew@LivingRichCheaply August 19, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    I think basement apartments are fine if it is temporary as it is generally cheaper, and you’re definitely saving on the electric bill by not having AC. I don’t know if I can get used to those windows though. Also, I’d make sure there were sufficient entrances/exits as some basement apartments can be a fire hazard. Another issue would be flooding if you’re in a low lying area. I live on the top floor of an apartment so I don’t hear people above me, but I’ve been cursed with bad neighbors next door…constant fighting/screaming and also smoking (cigarette and pot)!

    Reply
    1. E.M. August 19, 2013 at 10:52 AM

      Ugh I hate the smell of smoke! That sucks that the people next door fight all the time. I guess I’d rather hear loud footsteps than yelling. The fire hazard and flooding issues are good points. We only have one door which isn’t amazing, but thankfully R and I could probably squeeze through the windows if necessary. I am a little afraid of the possibility of getting snowed in, too.

      Reply
  8. Budget and the Beach August 19, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    I lived in a basement apartment in Seattle for maybe 2 years ish. The cons (massive f’n spiders, getting sick from the mold, lack of space) far outweighed the pros for me (having a dishwasher AND w/d IN the unit, cost). I should have had a dehumidifier like you because I was sick for a long time living there and didn’t know why. When I moved all my symptoms cleared up. I thought I was going crazy! :)

    Reply
    1. E.M. August 23, 2013 at 4:54 PM

      Oh my, massive spiders are not fun. At all. Neither is mold! I am glad you felt better once you moved.

      Reply
  9. eemusings August 19, 2013 at 2:12 PM

    I think more than the lack of space, the lack of air/light was the real killer for us! The cheap rent made it worth it for a while, though.

    Reply
    1. E.M. August 19, 2013 at 5:10 PM

      Yes, the lack of fresh air puts a damper on things, in more ways than one. Funny how you don’t realize how much you miss something like air and light until you lose it!

      Reply
  10. anna August 19, 2013 at 4:50 PM

    Wow, you and R are really tall! There aren’t a lot of basements in SoCal, so I thought it was the coolest thing when I visited B’s family since they had one in their house. Your place looks pretty spacious!

    Reply
    1. E.M. August 19, 2013 at 5:12 PM

      That’s interesting that there aren’t as many basements by you. I would say it’s pretty random here – a decent amount of houses do have them, but on my old block no one did. I had one in my first house. It can definitely be quite the functional space.

      I would say our apartment fits us perfectly. Just the right amount of space we needed!

      Reply
  11. Tara @ Streetsaheadliving.com August 19, 2013 at 6:22 PM

    My brother lived in a basement apartment with not a lot of windows and the trick for him was investing in high quality compact florescent bulbs and a bunch of additional lamps. The amount of lights on never contributed an increase in his all inclusive rent and as someone with a mild case of SAD, it really helped him out.

    If noise is ever a problem to sleep with, I can’t recommend the Marpac Sleep machines enough… I have two of those with my occasionally noisy neighbor and it really helps!

    Also, it’s great that your landlord included a dehumidifier! So important in damp basements.

    Reply
    1. E.M. August 19, 2013 at 9:32 PM

      I have never heard of the Marpac Sleep machines – I am looking into it right now, thanks! I always sleep with a fan on for “noise.” I can never sleep when it’s too quiet. Thankfully they go to bed before us, so it’s okay at night and in the morning. It’s mostly when I come home from work till about 10pm.

      I did bring my lamp here from my parent’s house which we have in the living room. As it has 3 bulbs on it it tends to make a difference. All the other rooms are okay. There’s still nothing like the sun shining into the apartment, though!

      Reply
  12. T. B. August 19, 2013 at 9:14 PM

    My first apartment was a tiny little think in NY. All I could fit was a table, my bed, and a sofa. It honestly sucked for a while, but eventually I got used to it. With rent so ridiculously expensive in NY, I was glad just to have a decent place to live.

    As for basements, I don’t think I’d really like that. I dunno – I just get really depressed without sunlight. I need those windows.

    Reply
    1. E.M. August 19, 2013 at 9:34 PM

      Yep, it is ridiculous! I live in NY as well, but not in the city. I am wondering if my slight unhappiness lately has something to do with the lack of light around here, but considering I spend more time at work, with it getting dark by 8, I only have two hours of sunlight to enjoy anyway.

      Reply
  13. SarahN August 19, 2013 at 9:56 PM

    So basements and apartments with them, are more a function of super cold places, which Australia isn’t! So it’s rare to see basements, and much less have them let out. So I’d never known they were ‘a thing’ until you!!

    My first proper rental (outside uni housing) was with a flatmate who was a stranger. It was in a dodgy neighbourhood (the same my loft was in, so not that bad according to me), and I looked out onto a tree – which is good, cause I hate shutting curtains/blinds, and I’m not modest :p It had water issues though, and damp – so mould grew on the big sliders in my room :(

    6-8months is not long at all – I couldn’t fathom moving again so soon, ekk! But if it’s not right, then I get that you’d rather move than deal with all the issues. Like those sprinklers sound a little inconvenient. And the noise, I read a great post on how to negotiate your rent down, this would be some prime examples!

    Reply
    1. E.M. August 20, 2013 at 10:08 PM

      Is it more common to have an attic or garage? Basements are used for storage a lot! It depends on if you want to finish your basement or not. Mold is evil, ugh. My boyfriend really likes privacy so if the house is away from the road/other neighbors it’s usually better. I think window placing should be taken into consideration more often when building a house!

      I feel like I might offend my landlord’s if I told them their noisiness should lead to a reduction in rent, haha! I was basically forced to move out of my parent’s house since they moved, otherwise I might still be with them. Or I would have taken my time looking for an apartment. R’s job requires him to transfer at some point (comes with a promotion), and he *should* be ready for this within 6-8 months. So we knew coming into this situation that it likely wouldn’t last long. This definitely isn’t our “forever place” anyway since it’s too expensive.

      Reply
      1. SarahN August 21, 2013 at 4:57 PM

        OH attic’s aren’t big in Australia either! So garages all the way.

        I think if you said it right, you wouldn’t offend her, but I understand your choices were limited when it came to moving out. I couldn’t imagine you making this basement apartment your forever place!

        Reply
  14. Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies August 20, 2013 at 8:42 PM

    My BFF lived in a basement apartment. 3 Girls shared the house upstairs, and she became great friends with them, but loved having her own private place to retreat to.
    One thing she had that really helped with the “no window” thing, was a fake window. Think a window frame with an opaque covering (hers had a swirly pattern, but I’ve seen them tiffany-style), that has a light built into it. So when you turn the light on, it looks a bit like sunshine coming through a window. It’s just a bit of a nice way to feel like you’ve got a tad more natural light.

    Reply
    1. E.M. August 20, 2013 at 10:01 PM

      That sounds like a nice situation! I would prefer if I had my own private space in a house share. I did read about the fake windows when we first moved here, and they look neat, but since we don’t plan to stay long-term we can make do with what we have for now.

      Reply
  15. Matt Becker August 21, 2013 at 9:24 AM

    One of my early apartments was a basement apartment and while I wouldn’t want one for the long term, it was fine for our needs at the time. We got enough light (not a ton though) and we didn’t have the noise or sprinkler problems you have. Bugs can definitely be an issue though for sure.

    Reply
    1. E.M. August 21, 2013 at 9:57 AM

      Bugs are my biggest issue sadly, I hate spiders! Our landlord’s installed bright bulbs in most of the lights, so it is decently lit. I just like seeing the sun shine through once in a while.

      Reply
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  18. MakintheBacon September 7, 2013 at 8:58 PM

    I shudder at the thought of seeing spider eggs hatching. I lived in the basement of a house for a couple of semesters when I was a university student. It was nice having all the space to myself and my own bathroom, but at the same time it was freezing and I would hear people going up and down the stairs constantly.

    Reply
    1. E.M. September 7, 2013 at 9:29 PM

      Anything involving spiders bothers me! I can imagine the benefits of having some space alone off campus might be better than a cramped dorm room. It can be annoying to hear everyone’s movements but I suppose you get used to it at some point (I’m having to at least).

      Reply

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