Think Outside The Average Apartment: Try A Loft!

Loft Dwelling Evolves in NYC! 4 Lessons from Loft History

A law enacted by the New York State Legislature last June gave tenants in loft apartments the same rights as those in regular residential buildings. But the law has ruffled feathers of a few loft landlords, and city agencies have taken a long time to figure out what last year’s “Loft Law” means. So, to protect tenants, a new little loft law has been approved: it gives loft residents legal protection for the period of time while their applications to be residents (made possible by the first law) are still pending.

In NYC, 12,000 people live in lofts. Some loft owners affected by the new law were using the pending status of their tenants’ residency applications as an opportunity to make last-ditch efforts to change their lofts in ways that made the lofts not covered by the new law. But unfortunately, these last-ditch efforts were often a bummer for loft occupants: for example, as NY1 News’s Erin Billups reported late last month, some landlords tried to reconvert occupied lofts into industrial (read: un-liveable) spaces by doing not-nice things like pouring concrete into shower basins and cutting off hot water.

Lofts until now have been a loophole: for owners, who could avoid regulations associated with residential buildings, and for renters, who could pay lower rents for living in what was once an industrial space. It looks like the law is coming down on the side of tenants getting more rights. But don’t pity owners too much: they’ll win too, as loft rents will in turn be likely to rise. The era of lofts being a super-economical option for daring renters and a way to fill up abandoned buildings is coming to an end—at least in NYC.

But the loft-living trend may be just now taking root in cities like Cleveland and Detroit. Planners in these cities are taking a cue from the history of loft living in NYC: as you may recall from Demi Moore’s character and digs in “Ghost,” it was artists who first lived in abandoned warehouses in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood. Beginning in the 60’s, these artists showed the world repurposing old buildings was a viable and sexy alternative to urban redevelopment projects and by the mid ‘70’s, SoHo was called the city’s best place to live.

These days, Cleveland and Detroit have plenty of abandoned buildings and houses to offer the young and creative, thanks to recent foreclosures and the shuttering of many urban manufacturing centers. Using the promise of cheap rent and “the creative possibilities of a city in transition,” these cities are hoping to see mini artist-led urban renaissances of their own, too. Cleveland has loft developments like 55-unit Hyacinth Lofts (marketed specifically to creative-types) and 66-unit Historic Knitting Mills Building, while Detroit offers a range of lofts ranging from the raw (check out Milwaukee Park Lofts, near an industrial plant and an overpass) to the Ritz (Grinnell Place Lofts).

Loft living captivates us, and should be studied, as a lack of housing options in big cities has experts predicting supply won’t be able to keep up with demand. As such, it’s worthwhile to identify a few takeaways for multifamily managers hoping to ramp up loft living:

  • In up-and-coming neighborhoods: renters are enticed by low rents in tandem with other perks, such as offers of creative control of nearby renovation projects.
  • New loft areas in up-and-coming locations or rough-around-the-edges buildings are most attractive to artists, who know how to live creatively; as such, loft marketing can target this group.
  • Loft laws: as seen in NYC, once loft living in a city becomes attractive to more mainstream renters, this new type of tenant will likely clamor for more rights (and loft owners, in turn, will be able to charge an apartment rental rate rather than a please-occupy-my-vacant-building rate). If cities or states change the laws trying to give residents more rights too early in the loft-living cycle, they could risk pricing artists out instead of ever attracting them to begin with.
  • Neighborhoods stay maximally cool if artists aren’t priced out of the neighborhoods they helped pioneer (as they have been in SoHo, for example); rent-rollover mortgages for pioneer artists are one way to keep artists around.

Do you live in a loft? In the process of converting one? Renting out loft unit apartments? We want to hear about it! (And we’d LOVE to see pictures!) Please share them with us on our Facebook page!

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