Temporary walls have long been used by New Yorkers to carve out an extra room or two from an apartment in order to make the rent more palatable with the help of roommates.
In recent years though, the city's Buildings Department (and consequently, building management companies) has gotten stricter about ensuring that temporary walls—non-load-bearing pressurized walls that are not attached permanently to the other walls or the floor and can be removed (relatively) easily, without damaging the permanent wall—are up to code.
[Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post was published in 2012 and has been updated with new information for July 2018.]
While it's always been illegal to build a wall without a Department of Buildings permit, buildings tended to look the other way as multiple roommates shoehorned their way into apartments that were unaffordable on just one or two paychecks.
Some still look the other way and others flat out prohibit them. But some legitimately allow them (check out our list of 18 NYC landlords that allow temporary walls). Meanwhile, temporary wall companies are working with management companies and customers to find solutions that won't violate building codes, and will still be cost-effective and efficient, considering that walls are often built for rentals.
Need help finding a rental that allows temporary walls? The rental experts at Triplemint, a Brick Underground partner, know exactly where to look. If you sign up here, you can also take advantage of Triplemint's corporate relocation rate—where you'll pay a broker's fee of 10 percent of a year's rent instead of the usual 12 to 15 percent on open listings. Bonus: The agents at Triplemint are a delight to deal with.
Options are often limited to partial walls (that stop at least one foot from the ceiling) and bookshelf walls (see '8 bookshelf walls you can live with') which are considered furniture.
Communication with the temporary wall company and building management is important in order to avoid code-related problems (and the possibility of, say, the super or the fire department showing up one day to rip your wall out).
Expect to pay around $1,000 (including any possible security deposit, which you should get back). But additions like windows or light panels, or non-standard doors, can move that price up significantly.
Here are some other things to know before you take the plunge:
- Don't rely on your broker's word. Make sure you ask management (not just a broker) whether you can erect a wall before you pay for anything, and before you sign your lease, to avoid disappointment. Your building may even specify which temporary wall company you can use.
- You’ll need a window. By law, in order for a room to be habitable, it must have a window. Make sure that wherever you’re going to build a wall, a window will remain in each room.
- The new rooms can’t be too small. According to NYC building code, in order for a room to be classified as a bedroom it must be at least 80 square feet.
- Don't block exit routes. Temporary walls cannot block exit routes or interfere with the ventilation and sprinkler systems in apartments. They don't usually have locks in order to minimize danger of blocking exit routes during a fire.
- Consider French doors/sliding doors. If you’re worried about blocking off light, consider the more expensive options of French doors or sliding doors (which usually run between $1,000 and $2,000). They allow light in and help make the space feel more open.
- Get it all in writing. Some companies get a bad rap on sites like Yelp.com for charging people to take their walls down. It all depends on a company's policy: most will remove the wall for free within a two- or three-year period provided there is at least 30-days notice. Still, be sure you receive and sign documentation clearly stating that you won’t need to pay the company to take the wall down, and that you will get your deposit back as long as things are in good shape.
- Seamless versus walls with seams. Prefabricated walls with seams usually take less time to put up and are cheaper to build (they're also way more popular in NYC). They tend to look more temporary, which sometimes in the eyes of building management is a good thing. Seamless walls blend in better with your ceiling and wall and look more permanent, but they may require a touch-up paint job after the installation.
- Renting versus buying the wall. Most companies lease walls to customers. The standard time-frame is up to three years, at which point a renewal fee is required. If you're thinking about using the wall for longer than three years, it may be worth it to purchase the wall if possible.
Here are four companies that specialize in building walls around the city. They all work with renters and owners.
Many NYC management companies that allow walls require tenants to use Wall 2 Wall NY because of its solid reputation. The company says it is the exclusive wall provider for hundreds of NYC buildings.
Prices start at $1,000. You purchase the wall as opposed to renting it, so there is no deposit. Full payment is due upon completion of the installation, which usually takes about four hours. It's free to have the wall removed within two years; any removal after that period will cost $350 plus tax, per wall. If there are any questions about the wall's security, the company will come out to check it upon request.
This Brooklyn-based company offers walls from $650-$2,500, though the average wall (built with a door) runs around $950 ($650 would be for covering up a doorway, $2,500 might be for a glass wall).
Room Dividers rents the wall to customers, and they usually do leases up to three years. After that, you can extend the lease for $150, which covers up to three more years. It usually takes somewhere between four to six hours to build. There’s no need for a deposit, and the company says there are no fees to take the wall down.
This company started in 2007, and up until 2010 installed only full-sized pressurized walls. But with buildings enforcing stricter rules regarding walls that fully extend to the ceiling, requests started to shift to bookcase walls, which now make up about 85 percent of business, says owner Ran Refaeli. Still, 15 percent is pressurized walls, and that still accounts for a lot of clients.
The cost for a 12-foot-wide by 8-foot-high wall with a standard swinging door is $950. No deposit is required, and it takes about six to eight hours for installation. Once you purchase it, it's yours. There's free removal with 30 days notice for the first three years. But if you need it taken down sooner than a month's time, or after the three-year period, there is a $250 removal fee.
Styles can include a swinging door, pocket/sliding door, French door with panel glass, light panels with Plexiglas, and sliding windows. Finishes include lattice (connecting the gaps between the sheetrock panels) or seamless/plaster. If you have a problem with the wall, Dr.-WALL will come and fix it for free.
All Week Walls' temporary walls cost between $700 and $2,000. The company builds both seamless walls and walls with seams, though they prefer to go with seams, since they're more efficient and cheaper for the client.
Customers actually purchase the walls, and as long as they have four weeks notice, the company will take down the wall for free. Otherwise, it's $350.
Donny of All Week Walls says he always complies with building management rules, building partial walls in some cases. Still, most clients opt for full-length pressurized walls, he says, "because these are adults, and they want the most privacy that they can get."