Moving and Apartment question
June 19, 2019 7:33 PM   Subscribe

What should I know about living in a “garden” apartment?

I’m moving to Hyde Park, Chicago and I’m in Chicago this week/weekend to search for apartment. I would like to sign a lease by this upcoming Tuesday for a July or August start date. I’m not finding too much available, but I did find a huge, affordable basement/garden apartment. There is a small ‘sun room’ in the front of the apartment with six windows and one more window in the living room. So there is some sunlight in the front of the apartment, but it doesn’t reach all of the way to the back. I do get S.A.D. badly in the Fall and Winter. Knowing this, I’m not sure even trying to rent this apartment is a good idea.

The only other apartment I’ve found is a nicely sized but expensive one bedroom owned by Mac Properties.

Anyways, I’ve never lived in a basement apartment before and I would love to know if there’s anything special or unusual about renting a basement apartment that I should consider as I make this decision?
posted by pumpkinlatte to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The basement level will typically be more humid/damp and relatedly, have way more bugs than higher levels (my experience with this is primarily in Michigan, but hey, close enough).

In garden apartments, the landlords often live in the same building. This can be a pro or con, depending on the owners, but it's basically a wildcard. If this is the case for you, and anything about them sets off your spidey-sense, I would be very hesitant about taking the apartment.
posted by ktkt at 7:43 PM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is a very bad idea if you get SAD. Chicago in the winter, if you’re not used to a cold climate, is rough outside, so you spend a lot of time indoors. If there’s a big snowstorm your access to light will be reduced and you won’t want to get out of the apartment and go outside for maybe days at a time. The place may flood easily also.

That and yes, more bugs and other pests.
posted by sallybrown at 7:48 PM on June 19, 2019 [18 favorites]

One thing that helps my garden apartment re: the bugs: one of these draft stopper type things.

Also it’s just a given that in the warmer weather I’ll have the ac running. Less for the temperature and more for the dehydrating effect. (This is a non issue in the winter bc the heat kicks on and instantly dehydrates everything.

I negotiated with my landlord to have the flooring upgraded to a fairly standard wood-look linoleum from a fairly standard carpet. This was the best decision EVER. it keeps it feeling much much cleaner lighter and airier and less musty/humid. Would strongly recommend this!
posted by seemoorglass at 7:48 PM on June 19, 2019

Mac are notoriously shitty landlords. As you said, their units are overpriced, and lots of my friends had horror stories about getting the heat turned off in the middle of the Chicago winter.

Specific to basements, I've lived in two basement places here in DC and had pretty okay experiences. Like others said, you get more bugs, particularly camel crickets and house centipedes. Flooding can sometimes be an issue, so make sure you ask about the drainage situation. If it's possible to set your bed up in the sunroom, that's probably what I'd do if I were you. I'm not diagnosed with SAD but I do notice changes to my mental health in the winter months, and switching from a basement to an above-grade apartment didn't seem to make a difference.
posted by capricorn at 8:16 PM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Sorry, but it's true.
posted by praemunire at 8:25 PM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Break-ins seem to be fairly common in garden apartments, as the ground-level windows provide relatively easy access.

And yes, light will not be as good. When we lived in one in a snowy climate, snow sometimes piled all the way up covering the windows, and some were in part of the landlord's garden where we didn't have easy access to clear them.

If it's one like ours was where the landlord lives on the upper floor(s), they may keep shared utility stuff in the basement. Ourbuilding had a small basement room next to our apartment where the washing machine and dryer were, and where they kept cleaning supplies, vacuum cleaner etc. Their bicycles and often trash got stored on the shared basement entry area. This meant they were hanging around near our entryway multiple times a day, doing laundry, fetching things, etc. It didn't feel nearly as private as we had expected from the fact we would be on a different floor from them with our own entrance.
posted by lollusc at 9:16 PM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah the things that have always stopped me from renting garden apartments are bugs and flooding. They're cheaper for a reason. (I also feel like you're more likely to get broken into, but idk how real that is.)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 9:16 PM on June 19, 2019

Downstairs, you'll hear the people walking around upstairs. And sometimes their kids, running.
posted by Rash at 10:34 PM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh my lord, I lived in a basement apartment for a handful of months and I'll never do it again. Lots of bugs, little light, as noted above. I am also someone who gets SAD and it made the Michigan winter even worse than it usually is. The particular building I lived in seemed to have little insulation between the basement and the floor above so I could hear *everything.* Even pee hitting the toilet was clearly heard! Naturally, they could probably hear whatever I was up to as well, which was equally mortifying. The laundry area was next to my apartment also but that was never an issue for me.

Also, just generally when apartment-searching, ask yourself why a particular unit might have been on the market with no takers for so long. If it's too good to be true, it probably is, in my experience.
posted by sevenofspades at 1:28 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

My experience with garden type apartments is hearing the bed spring concerto anytime, day or night. I got it from the top, the bottom and the side. Nearly drove me insane.

Then there are the bloody effing bugs!

Don't move into a garden apartment if you can help it.
posted by james33 at 4:52 AM on June 20, 2019

I had no problem with my garden apartment in Indiana except that it flooded. So look carefully around baseboards, etc. for any signs of past flooding.
posted by metasarah at 6:04 AM on June 20, 2019

oh god garden apts here in nyc are: full of bugs, prone to flooding, and always so damp in the summer. if it's a street-facing one then it's full of street noise (esp on garbage days), and you're constantly plagued by the front door slamming with everyone entering and leaving the building. the only ones worth renting are the duplexes where at least you have a buffer floor between you and the upstairs neighbors, and even that doesn't fully make up for all the other issues.

the bug/rat situation will vary a lot by neighborhood, if you're somewhere with a ton of bars and restaurants on the block it will be exponentially worse, again, especially on garbage pickup days.
posted by poffin boffin at 6:07 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

We live in a basement flat/apartment with our own garden that we can access through our bedroom and then a set of stairs, so yeah we are underground essentially.

- I find it keeps its temperature really well. It’s relatively cool when it’s hot outside and it’s cosy and warm in the winter.
- Having our own garden is awesome. But, husband makes a real effort to make it comfortable for relaxing in. We bought really nice garden furniture, put in a nice deck, he mows the lawn regularly etc.
- Our front room gets lots of light, the back rooms not so much. I don’t mind this because our bedrooms are in the back and I’d rather they be darker anyway. Our front is where we have our living room and kitchen.
- it’s relatively quiet despite facing the street. Our building is pretty far back from the street and being underground/basement/below street level also dampens the noise. Our bedrooms at the back are even quieter.

- Yup we had flooding
- Yup we’ve had mice (but haven’t seen a single one since we got a cat 5 years ago despite by knowing our upstairs neighbours still deal with mice occasionally)
- Yup upstairs noise. But you’ll probably get this no matter what unless you’re on the top floor.
- Yup to bugs. No ants (touch wood and thank god) but weird things once a while. No infestations though.
- Yup to damp. We had to repair a wall when we first moved in and I still have to be very vigilant about cleaning and airing out our bathrooms and various bedroom corners.

Most of these cons can be mitigated by a good relationship with your landlord and neighbors.

I have zero regrets living here but we own the place in a very desirable market and our own garden and private entrance makes it a real asset and I’m actually not that worried about being able to rent it out in the future. It just really depends on your priorities. I’m sorry I don’t have experience with SAD though.
posted by like_neon at 6:35 AM on June 20, 2019

I'd want to find out if it's a legal apartment. If it's not legal it wouldn't necessarily stop me from renring it, but I'd want to look into how it affects my rights. And I'd definitely want to make sure that there was an egress window for safety.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:25 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Burglars love "garden" apartments.
posted by Carol Anne at 9:37 AM on June 20, 2019

Is there an emergency/access/ escape window in the bedroom???? That means a window that is not locked with immovable bars or such, and is large enough for emergency fire evacuation. That is the most important criteria of all.
posted by mightshould at 9:57 AM on June 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Different experience: garden apartment, Manhattan. Flooded with light from the garden, no rats, no damp, no flooding. I don't know what your budget is but this was above mid-market.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:29 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

SO lived in a basement apartment for a while. It's depressing. I mean it's possible to cope with just one of darkness, dampness (and possible mould...), pests, living in close proximity to the people whose mortgage you're paying (and lacking a real sense of privacy), but all of them together - difficult, takes a toll.

If nothing else is on the market now, you could do Air BnB until September. Or, consider living with a roommate. Not necessarily the worst option, if you can find the right setup and person.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:56 AM on June 20, 2019

I moved into a garden apartment a few months ago. It's $50 more than the studio on the 4th floor that's exactly half the size of my apt.

- Great deal $$$
- Temperature regulates pretty well [way cooler on hot days than rooms a few stories above]
- The garden!!
- No stairs for getting stuff in/out of the house [groceries, laundry, new furniture etc]
- Private entrance. feels like my own lil world

- Definitely less light than average
- Yes, more bugs than most places I've lived. Nothing too gnarly yet
- I accidentally let in a mouse when I propped my back door open. Only mouse in the last 3 months
- I am worried about flooding.

Things that really help
- There are thick grates on all of my windows and steel outer doors - cuts down on burglary
- I'm on a street without restaurants/bars - cuts down on vermin

The biggest peace of mind I had was knowing that the last tenants had lived there for 5 years without trouble. I'd ask about duration if possible [tenants who stayed a long time is probably a good sign.]
posted by estlin at 3:50 PM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I lived in a basement apartment in DC for a few years. The price per square foot and for the location was really reasonable. We had a good amount of light. It was cooler temperature-wise which was great for DC. We moved out because we had a sewer backup but we had a good experience otherwise. If you go with it, get renters insurance with a low deductible.
posted by kat518 at 4:20 PM on June 20, 2019

Make absolutely sure that your rental insurance includes flooding of every flavor. Do NOT rely on the owner's insurance. Ask me how I know.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 5:07 PM on June 20, 2019

Garden apt in Chicago = centipedes, which creep-me-the-fuck-out, making such living arrangements untenable. I suppose there's a chance that ymmv on this point.
posted by she's not there at 9:10 PM on June 20, 2019

I lived in a basement apartment in Toronto for a while. It was cheap and in a good neighborhood but we still had miscreants testing the windows and door once in a while.

I was in nursing school and working night shifts so the lack of light helped me sleep during the day. But it was weird not knowing what the weather was without making an effort (instead of just glancing out the window).

I felt like I was living in a cave, and as someone who tends toward the hermit end of the spectrum this was both good and bad. I could hear way too much of what went on upstairs.

Flooding was a concern, as were bugs, as was feeling very isolated. If you tend toward SAD you either need proper lamps to address that or keep looking for something above ground.
posted by biscotti at 4:44 AM on June 21, 2019

Thanks all, your responses were very helpful to me in making my decision.
posted by pumpkinlatte at 7:39 PM on June 23, 2019

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