Property Q&A in Jersey City>Question Details

Florelle, Home Buyer in New York, NY

Might be a silly question, but how hard would it be to turn this property from a 3-family to a two family?

Asked by Florelle, New York, NY Thu Jan 8, 2009

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Dear Florelle

From the perspective of Jersey City Zoning, you can always reduce the number of units in a property. A kitchen will have to be removed, and an inspector will confirm that. It is however more difficult to add units. You can reach jersey City Zoning at 201-547-4832 to confirm. If you need further assistance feel free to contact me at 201-736-5713.

Nader Rezai
Weichert Realtors
273 Grove Street J.C, N.J. 07302
201-333-4443 x 200 Office E-mail Web
480-275-3558 Fax
201-736-5713 Cell
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Jan 16, 2009
Florelle: This is an interesting question. I am not familiar with the property in question but I do know what it takes to do a conversion in the State of New Jersey. Please DO NOT take out of state advice. Laws are different from municipality to municipality in NJ, and that’s over 500 separate situations!

Let's start with Zoning: Laws restricting the kind of development in any area have been in place for at least 80 years in our state. Obviously, economics, usage and styles have changed in that time. So have the zoning ordinances. What usually happens is that older developments that no longer conform to the new laws are all "Grandfathered." This means that they can continue as before. Any change to the property will usually be met with the insistence that the change meet the new zoning. Hardship cases are reviewed one at a time by a group called the Zoning Board of Adjustment. Sometimes practicality will prevail, other times, not and the adjusters can be hard nosed. So, the first thing you have to find out is if the current zoning standards will be met by the proposed change and, if not, will there be an exception allowed.

One note: Older very large single-family homes were often converted into multifamily apartments with the cities’ permission. Some of the resulting neighborhood deterioration from crowding many more people, many of lower income and fewer financial resources into an area has lead to a reaction, forbidding more conversions, even those that would actually result in a lower number of apartments in total. Watch out for this one in the zone you are looking at.

Having gotten through the zoning question of what is allowed at all, now let us go on to the Building Department. There is a uniform building code in NJ but it is adopted and administered by the local municipality, with each having their own interpretation and additions. (Sort of something similar to the bible and all the sects that read it differently.)

Regardless, there are standards of construction that must be met for health, safety and quality of construction. A plan must be submitted (with appropriate professional input) and approved by the building department. They will then issue permits (at a cost) and authorize you to do the work. They will insist on seeing the work at times during the construction process. For example, they will want to see pipes and wiring BEFORE you cover the walls with sheet rock. At the end of the process, they will give you a final approval.

Obviously, if the zoning can not be met to begin with and if the building code cannot be met because of the existing configuration of the building, you ARE NOT going to be able to convert the property into anything else and may be lucky to be able to continue to use it as-is. The housing department will want to inspect on change of ownership or tenancy or both and may find that health and safety issues are now recognized as being so bad as to be unacceptable. Then you will be in the fix that what you have may not be usable for anything at all that satisfies all the applicable laws.

The process of establishing what a property is worth and what can be done with it is called "Due Diligence" and the responsibility falls upon the BUYER. The seller does have to disclose known latent (Hidden) defects but those that can readily be discovered are the buyer’s responsibility. For example, in another question today (which I did not answer) someone was asking how loud the bars got on a certain street. This is a good example of a buyer doing a diligent job of determining if a property was right for him or her.

All of this boils down to my final advice: Be sure you know what you are doing, what it costs and what it will yield in income and if you find it right for you, go for it.

Best of Luck
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Jan 9, 2009

You can convert the 3 family into a 2 family if there is a vacancy in the unit you wish to capture. This home has a 3 bedroom owners duplex which is on the 3rd and 4th floor. If there is no tenant in the 2nd floor of the building, you can easily capture the unit and make it part of the duplex, thus creating a triplex.

If there is a tenant in place with a lease, you have to honor the lease until the tenant voluntarily moves out. Once that happens you can capture the unit. If the tenant is in default of the lease and you evict the tenant, you can then move into the unit once it is legally vacant.

If you have any additional questions, please let me know.


Walter J. Burns
Weichert Realtors
1 Newark St.
Hoboken, NJ 07030
201-653-8488 Ext: 230
201-694-8946 Mobile
201-653-4154 Fax
0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Jan 8, 2009
Up to city zoning committee to approve your request with permits.
Web Reference:
0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Jan 8, 2009
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