Converting SRO To Single Family in NYC

by | Last updated May 15, 2024 | Building Conversions, NYC DOB

After the Great Depression, people converted townhouses in NYC into SRO Rooming Houses. They divided the townhouses and Brownstones into many small one-room apartments with a shared bathroom in the hallway of each floor. Today people are purchasing these SRO Townhouses and converting them back to their original state as single-family homes.


Can You Convert an SRO to a Single-Family in NYC?

To convert an SRO to a single-family in NYC, you need a Certificate of No Harassment from Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to obtain approvals and permits from the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB). You will get a new Certificate of Occupancy from DOB after completing all work and passing inspections.

I am Jorge Fontan, an architect in New York and owner of Fontan Architecture, a NYC-based architecture firm. At my firm, we work on various project types, including SRO conversions to single-family homes. This blog post will focus on the general process for converting an SRO to a single family.


What is an SRO?

SRO stands for Single Room Occupancy. This term describes multiple situations. In this post, we will be addressing converting SRO Rooming Houses. The Rooming House is the most common use for SRO. These Rooming units are typically Class B rental units, where individuals rent a single room with shared bathroom facilities.

Many small buildings, townhouses, and brownstones have been converted into SROs in New York. We have another post if you want to learn more about SRO Single Room Occupancy.


Verify Legal SRO Status

When converting an SRO to a single-family home, the first thing is to verify the existing legal use of the building. There are different resources, such as the Certificate of Occupancy from the Department of Buildings (NYC DOB) or the building I-Card from Housing Preservation & Development (HPD). The records from DOB and HPD are critical for these building alterations. An architect like myself can easily find and review these documents to verify the existing legal use.


Obtain a Certificate of No Harassment

To convert an SRO building, you must obtain a Certificate of No Harassment (CONH). The process takes time, so planning is critical. You must include a CONH in all applications for conversion of an SRO when filing with DOB. This document is necessary to approve alterations to any building identified as SRO Restricted.

Another issue to consider is that the building will need to be vacant. In many cases, the purchased building will already be empty, but you should talk to a lawyer to make sure this process has been done legally and without any harassment to the tenants. You will typically hire an attorney to get the Certificate of No Harassment.


Hire an Architect

You will need an architect for any alteration to SRO buildings, including converting the SRO to single-family use. As an architect working on SROs, we begin with assessing the existing building. After the assessment is complete, we design the new home alteration. In this process, we will work closely with the homeowner to design a home that suits their needs. It is important to tailor all renovations to the individual occupants.

Once the overall design is complete, we, the architect and engineers, produce technical plans and specifications. We file then file for approval with the Department of Buildings.

During construction, the architect will perform construction administration on the project and periodically visit the job site. At completion, the architect will assist in project closeout, punch list, and obtaining a new Certificate of Occupancy from the DOB.


File an Alteration CO

If you are converting an SRO to a single family, your architect will file an Alteration CO formerly known as an Alteration Type 1 or Alt 1, with the Department of Buildings. An Alt CO is an alteration that results in a new Certificate of Occupancy.

The DOB will review the Alteration CO application, which will take some time to complete. DOB will not approve the application without the Certificate of No Harassment.


Renovate the Building

Once the Alterations are approved, the Contractor can pull permits and begin the building renovation. The architect will help you through this process. There will be inspections and logistics to deal with, and, of course, general construction issues. Make sure to hire a good team for your project.

SRO properties can have many problems, but some are in good condition. The building must be brought up to code and comply with all applicable NYC regulations. The architectural and engineering team will assess and direct on those issues.


Obtain a Certificate of Occupancy

Once you pass all the inspections and the architect submits the final sign-off paperwork, you will receive a new Certificate of Occupancy from the DOB. Your building will no longer have an SRO status and will officially be a single-family home. We have another post explaining What is a Certificate of Occupancy if you want to learn more.

Below you can see the parlor floor of a Brownstone we gut renovated. We converted this from an SRO to a two family residence.

Brownstone Open Parlor Floor

Brownstone Open Parlor Floor


SRO Conversion to One-Family Home

You can convert an SRO property into a single-family home, but there is a process to it that must be followed. You will need an architect to assess the building, design the alteration, and file with the Department of Buildings. You will receive a new Certificate of Occupancy upon completing all work and passing all required inspections.


Thank You for Reading Our Blog Post on The Process for Converting an SRO to Single Family in NYC 

I hope this was helpful. If you want to speak with an architect about a potential project, contact us at Fontan Architecture directly.


Contact Fontan Architecture

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.