SRO Conversions in NYC

by | Last updated Jun 29, 2023 | Building Conversions, Multifamily Residential, NYC DOB

New York City has many Single Room Occupancy Rooming Houses. Property owners constantly want to convert these SROs to standard multifamily residential apartments.

To convert an SRO Rooming House into Class A Apartments, an architect will file with the NYC DOB to obtain a new Certificate of Occupancy and perform all necessary alterations to bring the property up to all relevant codes. This application must include a Certificate of No Harassment from HPD.

I am Jorge Fontan, an architect in New York and owner of Fontan Architecture, a Manhattan-based architecture firm. We work on a variety of projects in our office, including SRO Conversions to single and multifamily residential. In this article, I will review some basic concepts of SROs, and discuss the conversion process. We will specifically review converting a building with Class B rooming units to Class A apartments.


SRO = Single Room Occupancy 

SRO stands for Single Room Occupancy. The term has a broad definition, but the most common use in NYC is for rooming units. In a rooming unit or furnished room unit, a person rents an individual room within a multifamily building. In this case, there is typically one shared bathroom per floor. In NYC, SROs of this type are usually listed as “Class B” Multiple Dwellings. There are examples where you can have a Single Room Occupancy in a Class A dwelling, but we are not discussing that here. We are looking at Class B rooming units, also known as “Rooming Houses.”

You can read another post we wrote to learn more about What is an SRO?

SRO Single Room Occupancy Plan

SRO Single Room Occupancy Plan

Converting an SRO Building to Class A Apartments

If you have an SRO property, the process is more involved than a typical building alteration. The building will typically require significant alterations. You will hire an architect to design the alteration, obtain all necessary approval, and oversee the renovation. You will always need to obtain a new Certificate of Occupancy when performing this work.

The first thing you will need when planning work on an SRO is a Certificate of No Harassment.


What is a Certificate of No Harassment? 

SRO Rooming Units are, by default, rent-stabilized. In NYC history, property owners have harassed tenants to force them to leave these units.

HPD, Housing Preservation & Development issues a Certificate of No Harassment (CONH). This document exists to ensure that property owners do not harass their tenants into leaving the SRO unit. Typically an attorney will file for and obtain the CONH. 

Before performing any work on an SRO property, you must obtain a Certificate of No Harassment. The DOB will only approve applications for conversion with the CONH.


Filing With DOB for Conversion

Converting an SRO to Class A Apartments requires a new Certificate of Occupancy from the NYC DOB. As an architect, I submit an application with plans and documents to the DOB. This application is called an Alteration CO, formerly known as an “Alteration Type 1” or “Alt 1”. Converting SROs will always require a new C of O.

Filing for a new or amended Certificate of Occupancy application will trigger a significant review at the DOB and inspections. You must bring the building up to code. DOB must approve all this work before commencing with the renovation.


Renovating When Converting SROs to Apartments. 

Typically converting an SRO building into apartments requires a significant amount of alterations. We need to bring these buildings up to code. In NYC, people started making SROs during the Great Depression. These SRO Rooming Houses existed long before our current zoning and building codes. Additionally, many of these buildings are in great disrepair. I will list a few basic examples of upgrades that may be needed when converting SROs to residential.

Fire Sprinklers: If the building does not have fire sprinklers, you will most likely add them for the alteration. If the building currently has sprinklers, the system may need upgrades and sprinkler heads added to comply with new requirements.

Hazardous Materials: Any old buildings may have hazardous materials such as Asbestos or Lead. Asbestos is often in roofing, flooring, pipe insulation, and other areas. Lead is most commonly in paint and pipes. We must deal with these materials.

Means of Egress and Fire Codes: The building will need all appropriate means of egress and updates to comply with fire codes.

Plumbing and Electrical: Plumbing and Electrical must all be up to code. Upgrading these may require significant work.

Room Sizes and Unit Layouts: Class B unit regulations differ from those for Class A units. The building layout will likely need significant alterations.

These are just a few examples of upgrades that you may need, but there are many more possible issues. We must assess every building on a case-by-case basis. Another point I want to make when renovating these properties is that they are often in a state of disrepair. These buildings may need a lot of work to get them in shape. Also, you need to consider the design. It is essential to consider how you will design the space to achieve your goals. As an architect, I always want to have in-depth discussions with my clients on their goals and offer multiple options for designing the building to achieve their goals.


Converting SROs to Single Family

We have worked on multiple projects where individuals purchase an empty SRO property to convert it into a single-family home. Many SRO properties were originally single-family Townhouses / Brownstones. It makes sense that people will buy these and convert them back to their original status. We have had multiple projects like this, and I believe this trend is going to continue.

We have another post if you want to read more about Converting SROs to Single Family Homes.


Single Room Occupancy Conversions in NYC

Converting SROs to “Class A” apartments is an involved process. Work with a qualified team and do everything by the book.

In this article, we reviewed a few of the issues with regard to Converting a Single Room Occupancy in NYC. This article does not assume to cover all conditions but provides a general overview.


Thank You for reading our blog post on Converting an SRO to Multifamily.

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.