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25 Oct 2017
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New York’s Loft Laws

In the 1950s and 60s, mostly artists took advantage of New York’s abundance of commercial industrial and manufacturing buildings and transformed them into working/living spaces. Known for their high ceilings and spacious open floor plans, famous artists such as Andy Warhol moved into these buildings where the rent was low and they had the space to create. The problem? These spaces were not actually residential as they “lacked hot running water, and there was little in the way of local amenities.”[1] So what contributed to the loft boom in New York City and made artists’ lofts in industrial buildings so desirable?

“They were just commercial spaces but what happened in American art was that abstract expressionism came along. Artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning moved art away from easel-sized painting to a grand format, and needed the large spaces, the ceiling height and the light to not only create their works but also to often live and work in the same space – sometimes illegally.”[2]

These artists would rent their space to galleries who attracted affluent buyers who not only ended up purchasing the art, but also the spacious units. Soon the spaces artists loved became unaffordable due to the high demand. However, desirability is not the only factor that put these lofts out of reach for artists – new regulations implemented a series of obstacles for these tenants.

So what are New York’s loft laws and how have they developed? New York’s legislature implemented the New York City Loft Law in 1982, along with a Loft Board who regulate the conversions of industrial buildings to residences.  The Multiple Dwelling Law, Article 7-C § 281[3] set out a new classification, interim multiple dwellings (IMD), which are commercial spaces lacking a certificate of occupancy. IMD’s required at least three families to occupy the building from December 1, 1981 to April 1, 1981 for it to be legally converted into residential spaces. These Loft Laws were later amended in 2010 and 2013 whereby at least three families occupied a commercial space for 12 consecutive months from January 1, 2008 to December 21, 2009. The new amendments also require all lofts to have at least one window that is 400 square feet, looking out towards a street, legal yard or courtyard, and is not in a basement or cellar or in a non-designated industrial business zone. Furthermore, for coverage applications (to convert their lofts into legal residences), the building space cannot be used for “certain activities that are inherently incompatible with residential use.” [4]

New Yorkers have been adamant for Mayor Bill de Blasio to address current loft laws that create more obstacles for loft residences. On June 15, 2017 the Loft Board held it will no longer “register buildings or accept new applications for coverage”[5] which advocates are eager to extend along with eradicating the bar on certain activities.[6] Lofts, which historically have been spaces for artists to live and work, are currently threatened under current regulations. Mayor de Blasio recently explained in a town hall meeting in Brooklyn that his administration will aim to protect “artists and cultural workers” along with providing adequate affordable housing.[7] However, for this to be true, the administration will have to play an active role when discussing and developing regulations to meet residences’ needs.

The next New York City Loft Board meeting will take place on October 26, 2017 at 2:00pm at 280 Broadway, 3rd floor.

[1] Brooker, N. (Sept. 3, 2011) “New York’s long love affair with loft living.” Financial Times. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/03c469e6-dfad-11e0-8e15-00144feabdc0?mhq5j=e5. Accessed on Oct. 25, 2017.

[2] Ib. per Lida Drummond.

[3] Multiple Dwelling Law, Article 7-C available at: http://www.nyc.gov/html/loft/downloads/pdf/loft_law.pdf.

[4] New York City Loft Board. Available at: http://www.nyc.gov/html/loft/html/home/home.shtml. Accessed on Oct. 25, 2017.

[5] Ib.

[6] The Real Deal. (May 18, 2017) “Loft-law reformers say de Blasio is MIA.” The Real Deal. Available at: https://therealdeal.com/2017/05/18/loft-law-reformers-say-de-blasio-is-mia/. Accessed on Oct. 25, 2017.

[7] The Real Deal. (Oct. 23, 2017). “De Blasio promises “big changes” to state loft law.” The Real Deal. Available at: https://therealdeal.com/2017/10/23/de-blasio-promises-big-changes-to-state-loft-law/. Accessed on Oct. 25, 2017. Per Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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