Living in 383 Square Feet

For one reason or another, apartment brokers generally do not tell you the square footage of apartments in the city. It’s always seemed strange to me since square footage is usually one of the first things you’re told. So why is this? I’ve heard a few answers from brokers, including it’s because when the apartments were built they did not keep count of square footage and because the layouts have changed over time. I never really bought either of these responses though because it doesn’t take a mathematician to do an estimate of square footage, especially when we’re dealing with small spaces.

Personally, I’ve always assumed it was actually because of legality issues and my suspicions have furthered since continued outrage over the last year about a push for micro-apartments that are 325 square feet. There’s been reports that the units are “breaking the law” because of a law stating apartments must be at least 400 square feet in NYC. I did a little research on this so called law and surprisingly couldn’t find too much info on it, other than it was enforced in 1987 and that apartments could not be built smaller than 400 square feet. Like I said, I’m not super educated on this law, but I’m going to go ahead and assume that it only applies to new builds because the majority of apartments ARE NOT 400 square feet in the city. And since my apartment was built in 1915, if my assumptions are correct, my apartment missed the law by a lifetime!

Case and point, I did apartment hunting this summer. Now I was looking for studios on the lower price range and they were tiny. Think, an oversized bedroom. I was totally okay with what my money could buy and was just excited to get my own place. So imagine my surprise when I scored what I thought was a BIG one bedroom on the Upper East Side that I could afford. Say what?! A one bedroom!? Is this real life? For those of you that have been reading, you know how excited I was about my score and every time I described my apartment to my friends and co-workers, the word “big” (by New York standards of course) always came out of my mouth. 

So after 5 months in my apartment I decided to figure out just what “big” meant and I got the tape measurer out. My apartment is pretty much a long rectangle so I started by doing the measurements of each room and then added them all up. I have a few slightly slanted walls in my living room where the window is, so my number is just an estimate, but what I ultimately came up with was…. 383 square feet. 383 square feet?!? My BIG one bedroom apartment was only 383 square feet?!? I mean I knew it would be small compared to other cities, but I wholehearted believed it was close to 500 or maybe 450, but 383? Oh boy.. Not what I was expecting that’s for sure! And what’s even scarier is if 383 square feet is a “big” apartment — for my price range of course — then the other apartments I was looking at couldn’t have been much more than 200 square feet, if that. Much lower than that 1987, 400 square feet law.

So my question is.. if old buildings are exempt (I’m assuming) from the law then why don’t people talk about square footage? What’s the big deal? Is it the atrocious price per square foot? Is it the fact that the number might scare people away? Is it because the brokers simply don’t know? What is it?! Which then leads me to also ask, what is the big deal about these micro-apartments? Yes, they’re small, but clearly most New Yorkers are already living in smaller spaces that weren’t actually built to optimize every square inch. A lot of questions, and not many answers! All I know is, I probably won’t be using the term “big” as much in reference to my apartment, but I’ll love it all the same!