Inside Stories

I’ve lived in an illegal, windowless bedroom for the past year. Here’s why I stayed

  • Winter found her $650 NYC rental online and discovered it was illegal after she moved in
  • She hasn’t reported her situation because she fears she will have no place to live
Celia Young Headshot
By Celia Young  |
April 19, 2024 - 2:30PM
A bed on the white background

Bedrooms must have an exterior-facing window to be legal in NYC, among other safety requirements.


Winter (a pseudonym) is a trans woman who moved to New York City to find independence and community. She rented a cheap room listed on Facebook, but discovered it was an illegal bedroom after moving in. Here, she shares with Brick writer Celia Young how she’s lived in a windowless room for the past year, and why she hopes to move out soon.

When I was trying to move to New York, the options were limited given my budget, and because I did not have much of a credit history. I took a room listed on Facebook by my now-roommate for $650 a month, which was really affordable by NYC standards. 

It wasn't until after I agreed to take it that my roommate told me there are two bedrooms available: one of them had windows, and one of them didn’t. A third person had already taken the room with the window.

I was pretty sure that it was illegal to not have a window. But I made a bit of a conscious decision not to ask too many questions.

[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's Inside Stories features first-person accounts of dramatic, real-life NYC real estate experiences.]

Renting in the dark

At first, the apartment didn't bother me too much. But after a while, living there began to really affect me. 

My room really cuts me off from the outside world; I don't have access to sunlight or fresh air unless I open my door. And when I do, everyone else in the apartment can see into my room, so then I don't have privacy. That leaves me feeling separate from the world and trapped. I get claustrophobic sometimes. 

But it’s also the only space in the city that is private and mine—the only place where nobody else can intrude or expect something of me. 

A far hotter NYC summer

Shortly before I moved in, I was told by my roommate that the room had vents that let in fresh air. It does not. 

When summer arrived, the room got a lot more uncomfortable. It gets stuffy in there, and probably at least 10 degrees hotter than the outside. I sweat profusely throughout the night, and needed to wash my sheets around every two days. I did get a fan, which helped to keep the air flowing. With summer coming again, I'm starting to dread the heat. 

Knowing the law doesn’t help me find a new apartment

I’ve lived here for a year and a month. Shortly after I moved in—when I was really bothered by the heat—I did some research and found out that a windowless bedroom is illegal. That didn't surprise me—but it also didn't really do anything for me. 

My only option, as far as I can tell, would be reporting the landlord to the city. That would get them in trouble, and prevent them or my roommate from renting it to anyone else. That would probably be a good thing for other renters, but I would be out of an apartment. It's not as if anyone is going to find me a new place to live, especially not an affordable one.

Unless I can find an alternative—which I would like to but it's not particularly easy—whether or not it's legal doesn't really change anything. If there was some sort of support from the city for finding a new place, that would be one thing. But as it is now, reporting it would just leave me without any apartment at all.

I work in retail and spend just over half of my income on rent. When I found the apartment, I felt lucky that I was able to find a place that was so cheap. But since then, I've discovered that it is costing me my quality of life.

Looking on the bright side

This apartment gave me a place to live New York at a time when I'm not sure I would have found anything else. I don't think I had much of a chance of finding something affordable and fully legal. Many words have been spilled about the state of housing in NYC, but needless to say, it's abysmal. This apartment is not a great place to live, but it is a place to live. 

I'm trans and I wanted to find a space where I could explore that anonymously. I grew up in a smaller town and being in a big city really helped me find myself, especially during that period of discovery. In the last year, I’ve come out to a lot of people in my life, and have begun walking on some paths that I'm happy to be on. Being able to live here and experiment has been an important part of that journey. 

My advice to others

I have learned how much I value looking at the sky and breathing fresh air. It's easy to not give as much thought to things like that until you've been cut off from them. Of course I would suggest that anyone who has the choice take an apartment with windows. But I don't think many people are taking an apartment without because they have a choice.

I don't know that I could tell myself a year ago not to have taken that apartment, because what I did with it has been important for the person I am now. But I certainly never want to live in a situation like this again, and I’d like to leave this situation as soon as I can.

Celia Young Headshot

Celia Young

Senior Writer

Celia Young is a senior writer at Brick Underground where she covers New York City residential real estate. She graduated from Brandeis University and previously covered local business at the Milwaukee Business Journal, entertainment at Madison Magazine, and commercial real estate at Commercial Observer. She currently resides in Brooklyn.

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