Commercial to Residential Conversion

by | Last updated Jun 28, 2023 | Commercial, Multifamily Residential, Property Development

Adaptive reuse is the practice of re purposing a building with one use and converting to another. Building conversions are a much more sustainable building practice then demolishing a building and building a new one. If the building is in good enough shape you will save a great deal of resources and money if you keep it. Converting a commercial to residential use is common enough that it may make sense in many situations. We will review a few things you need to know before converting commercial property to residential use. A commercial to residential conversion requires analysis of the existing conditions as well as local zoning and building codes.

Converting a commercial building into a residential use is relatively common. There will be zoning and building code issues to investigate. You will need to assess the existing building to determine if it will work for residential use and establish a budget for the building conversion.


Converting Commercial Property To Residential

The first thing you need to look at when planning a commercial to residential conversion is the Zoning. You need to know if the current zoning district allows for residential use or if it is limited to commercial. If the zoning allows for residential use then you can do an “As Of Right” commercial to residential conversion. If the zoning does not allow for residential use you will have 3 basic options. The first option is to scrap the building conversion and keep it as a commercial use. The second option will be to apply for a Zoning Variance. A Zoning Variance is a special permit or permission to do something that does not comply with the Letter of the Law. This is a very involved process and there will be no guarantee that it will be approved. The third option is to request rezoning. If the city is open to rezoning the area to a zoning that would allow for residential use then you may be able to proceed with the conversion. This in many cases may be a long shot. It will depend on your local conditions. there are going to be no guarantees on rezoning. Zoning will be the basis for converting commercial property to residential use.

NYC has specific regulations for Certain Commercial to Residential Conversions. You see see another post that goes deeper into the special Zoning Regulations for Converting Commercial to Residential in NYC.

Commercial To Residential Conversion in NYC

In New York City almost all commercial zoning districts have a residential equivalent. This means residential use is typically allowed in NYC commercial zoning districts. The commercial zone is matched with a residential equivalent zone. Before you decide to convert your commercial building to residential use the zoning must be reviewed. We do zoning analysis for clients all the time to determine a variety of zoning issues. If the zoning allows it then you can proceed with the project.

While you are figuring out the zoning you should also be assessing the building. It is never to early in my opinion to bring in a contractor. As an architect we and our engineers asses the existing building conditions to determine what needs to be done to facilitate the building conversion.


Commercial To Residential Property Conversions

Be prepared a building use conversion will require a major gut renovation. If the building shell is in god shape you may only have to renovate the interiors. The newly renovated building will have to comply with all applicable residential building codes.


NYC Requirements for Commercial To Residential Conversion

If you are converting a building it will always be filed as an Alteration Type 1 or Alt 1, some Alt 1s are required to follow New Building Requirements. Upon completion of your project you will need to get a new Certificate Of Occupancy. Here is a list of a few things you will need:

  • ADA accessibility.
    • If this is a multifamily building you will need Handicapped Accessibility as per ADA guidelines.
  • Elevators
    • If the building is over 4 stories you will need an elevator if you do not have one already.
  • Fire Alarm
    • If the building is over 3 stories it will need a fire alarm.
  • Fire Sprinklers
    • The building will need fire sprinklers in NYC.
  • Multiple Means of Egress
    • You may need to add stairs depending on the size and construction of the building.
  • Natural Light and Air
    • Every “habitable room” will need natural light and air. This may require new window openings in the building or may not. As architects we try to work within the existing shell ti minimize exterior work or we can alter it to add windows if necessary.


Thank You for reading our blog post on Converting Commercial Property to Residential.

I hope this was helpful. Please feel free to leave questions or comments below. If you want to discuss a specific project like converting commercial property to residential you can contact us directly. We wish you the best of luck on your projects.


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Jorge Fontan

Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.