The End of the Convertible Flex-2?

One of the greatest economies of scale phenomenon Manhattan renters utilize each year is the convertible 1BR, aka the flex-2.  While an individual renter looking for a nice Midtown or Downtown studio will pay $1800-$2200, a pair of renters looking for a two-bedroom can save huge amounts of money splitting the right type of apartment.  And that type isn’t a true two-bedroom, which ranges from $3600-$4100 and offers a spacious living room along with some of the best views in the building.  The best savings come from the convertible 1BR, a special kind of one-bedroom where it’s possible to build a temporary partition wall and convert part of the living room into a new bedroom.

The idea sounds so simple, yet these convertible 1BRs are a bit of a rare find and must meet a few important criteria.  They are so popular that most landlords and brokers actually clarify whenever a one-bedroom happens to be convertible (they are flexible enough to be turned into a 2BR, hence a flex-2).  Sadly at this time, our own NYC rental apartment search engine allows for filtering on 1-bedrooms+ or 2-bedrooms+, but there is no specific filter for the Flex-2.

What does a flex-2 mean?  Most importantly, the landlord or buildings must allow temporary walls, or at least will agree to turn a blind eye if you put up a wall and promise to take it down without leaving a trace (wall companies can put up simple walls with doors starting at $1200 and up, with extra for sound-proofing, L-shapes, and T-shapes).  The living room must be large enough to support the new bedroom, and also not block access to the original bedroom (otherwise you wind up with the dreaded railroad two-bedroom).  Lastly, the bathroom needs to be accessible from outside both the original and converted bedrooms, otherwise one roommate will need to trespass every day for showering, brushing teeth, etc.

If all goes well, two renters can bag a flex-2 for about $2400-$3000, plus the amortized cost of the wall (add $100-150).  They might be left with a tiny living room (and no windows in it), the kitchen and entrance area might lose all sources of natural light, and the roommates may quarrel over whether an equal payment of the rent is still fair.  However, in total, they will have found decent Manhattan housing for about $500 less than the cost of a comparable studio.  Sadly, as the New York Times writes this weekend, the flex-2 may be coming to an end.

As the city aggressively enforces a long existent but widely ignored code, walls are falling across Manhattan, radically altering the housing landscape for scores of young professionals. Thousands of renters are being told that the walls that have been put up over the years without approval from the Department of Buildings must come down. And new renters are being informed that if they wish to divide a space, they will need to rely on bookshelves or partial walls that don’t reach the ceiling.

To be fair, the walls apparently were never legal in most cases.  What has accelerated enforcement is a new stance finding landlords liable for certain tragedies that occur because of the walls.  Specifically, manslaughter penalties if the wall violates fire codes.  A partition and isolate a room to lack fire sprinklers, or may block emergency exit routes.


Unfortunately, the death of flex-2’s will certainly price many roommate pairs out of Manhattan for the foreseeable future, and will hurt landlords who can no longer collect a flex-2 premium on their apartments (and the flex-3 and junior-1 apartments should take a hit as well).  If you happen to live in one of these apartments, you probably don’t need to panic just yet.  In fact, we’d recommend keeping quiet if you have a wall.  Why bother asking your landlord a question when you really don’t want to hear the wrong answer?  Stay silent, enjoy your wall while you can, and start browsing next season’s IKEA catalog for some tall Billy bookshelves or Asian folding screens.

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