If you are a new renter in NYC, like a college grad or young professional, divide and conquer—and squeeze in a roommate or three—might be your M.O. when it comes to finding a space you can afford. One of the ways to do this is to put up a temporary pressurized wall, which can turn a one-bedroom apartment into two (or a two bedroom into three, and so on).
Using a temporary pressurized wall—which is not permanently affixed to walls or the floor and doesn't interfere with the ventilation or sprinkler systems, or block exit routes—is a decades-long strategy that has helped to level the playing field for renters with limited funds, allowing up-and-coming 20-somethings to eke out a living here—and for NYC to continue to attract new generations of makers, thinkers, and doers.
Beyond that, these walls are also a cost-effective way for families who rent or own to carve out a nursery or freelancers and entrepreneurs in need of a home office.
[Editor's Note: A earlier version of this post was published in July 2019. We are presenting it again here as part of our summer 2019 Best of Brick week.]
How to find an apartment where you can use temporary pressurized walls
Because adding a temporary pressurized wall can change an apartment’s layout, you or your landlord must seek out the proper permits (and get a new Certificate of Occupancy) from the Department of Buildings. This involves hiring an architect and getting the plans approved—a policy that has been more stringently and increasingly enforced over the last several years. As a result, many landlords and management companies explicitly prohibit temporary walls. In these buildings, you can still explore other solutions, such as installing bookshelf walls that stop at least one foot from the ceiling and are considered furniture. There are also curtain room dividers that are reinforced to block out sound. Neither of these requires permits (or even permission).
But if those solutions don’t suffice, you can seek out a different building or try and work with your existing landlord. “Most of my clients still prefer pressurized walls,” says Donny Zanger, owner of All Week Walls, “because they are adults who are looking for real privacy, and pressurized walls are still the best way to achieve that.”
Looking for an apartment to subdivide? Be aware that most landlords require you and your roommates to earn a combined annual salary of at least 40 to 45 times the monthly rent. If you don't—or if you’re an international employed person, self-employed, non-employed with assets, retired, or an international student or US student—you'll need a guarantor for your lease who earns at least 80 times the monthly rent and lives in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut. Or you can turn to Insurent Lease Guaranty. Accepted at more than 4,700 buildings across the city representing over 475,000 apartments, Insurent Lease Guaranty is a quick and easy way to get the apartment you want. Click here to learn more.
According to Ran Rafeali, owner of Dr-WALL, “Some buildings seem to realize that allowing pressurized walls gives them an edge over those that require a 12-inch gap or other loophole,” he says, counting at least five management companies that he has worked with recently in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Warburg Realty broker Rafael Feldman, who has helped renters get permission from a landlord to install a pressurized wall, says, “The longer the lease term, the more amenable the landlord in my experience. It’s certainly a great value-add as a broker to not only offer up the suggestion but to have a few solid referrals for buildings that allow them and companies that do these walls.”
If you’re planning to carve out additional rooms, always check directly with management (not your real estate agent) before you sign a new lease (start your search with these 18 NYC landlords that allow temporary walls). Noemi Bitterman of Warburg Realty advises looking for listings that say “wall shares allowed” (and ruling out any that say “no pressurized walls”).
Find out what styles of temporary walls are allowed and if the building requires you to work with a specific wall company. Note that most wall companies have forms and specs on their website to make it easy for you to weigh the options with your own landlord. These companies are also used to working with buildings and can help smooth out the process.
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.
What exactly is a temporary pressurized wall?
According to the NYC Department of Buildings, temporary walls must be non-load-bearing (so not supporting the ceiling) and cannot be permanently attached to other walls or the floor; they also must be able to be installed and removed without causing damage to permanent walls, which is not a problem with pressurized walls. These require no nails, screws, or other fasteners. Additionally, the walls cannot interfere with ventilation or sprinkler systems in apartments or block exit routes, also easy enough for companies to comply with.
Another important consideration when adding a temporary wall is making sure any new bedroom is legal according to the DOB. Namely, it must be at least 80 square feet and a minimum of eight feet for both length and width (so you can’t make a bedroom out of long, skinny space). There must be a window that faces outside (for natural light and air) that also offers a means of escape in an emergency. No pass-through bedrooms are allowed.
What to budget for the cost of temporary walls in NYC
The whole idea behind these temporary walls is to help make your rent more affordable. If you and your roommate are both signing a new lease, you may be planning to split the cost of having the temporary wall installed. If you are the one who will remain, you may have to front the costs yourself. Explore the different companies and features to find the most cost-efficient solution, using the following tips. Be sure to get all the costs and other details in writing, and read the fine print to avoid any surprises.
Based on the companies contacted for this article, prices for temporary walls range from $650 to over $3,000, depending on ceiling height, added features, and any custom requests.
Add-on features vary among companies but different door styles (sliding, pocket, standard, and single- or double-pane French doors) and windows are common and available in different sizes.
Temporary walls are around 5 inches thick, give or take a few centimeters, and can support up to 25 or 30 pounds; you can usually pay extra to have the wall reinforced for mounting a flat-screen TV or other heavy objects.
Same for soundproofing, which is described as offering about the same noise barrier as real walls.
Prefabricated walls with seams tend to be cheaper and quicker to make and install, though seamless walls blend in better with permanent walls and the ceiling and look more like traditional walls.
Some companies lease the walls for a specified time frame (usually two to three years), after which a renewal fee is required. Others let you purchase the wall outright (a good option for long-term renters). None of the companies contacted demand a deposit.
All companies will remove the wall for no extra charge within a time specified in the lease or purchase agreement and with advance notice. Make sure you know what your company requires from the get-go.
Before the company arrives, make sure you reserve the service elevator if there is one (walk-ups may cost extra); clear out four feet of space on either side of the wall.
The walls are painted white unless you request a custom color, in which case you will need to buy the paint yourself and let the company know in advance.
Plan for anywhere from four to eight hours for the installation, and to be there to let them in (or make plans for the building to allow access) and also at the end, to make sure it all looks as planned.
Payment is required the day of installation, usually once the wall is in place. Unless otherwise noted, all the companies listed below accept cash, checks, credit cards, and PayPal.
Make sure you have your landlords give approval before the company arrives—and never schedule the installation on the day the moving company will be unloading boxes.
Here are six of the more well-established wall companies that work in NYC, listed in alphabetical order.
1. 1Day Wall
1DayWall, which launched about seven years ago, builds temporary walls for purchase in the $875 to $1,600 ballpark.
Unlike the other companies listed here, they offer walls that are only three inches thick, helpful in especially tight spaces.
The walls are painted flat white using Benjamin Moore Super Hide paint (the default of most NYC rentals); custom colors will cost extra and must be provided by the client. Although the company claims the walls are “quite noise resistant,” it will add more sound insulation upon request.
Removal is free within two years and with four weeks notice; otherwise, it costs $350.
The company only accept cash or certified check.
With “over 15 years of experience and over 5,000 walls built” (per the website), All Week Walls has a solid reputation in NYC for its customer service and quality products. They will even work weekends, a rarity among wall companies.
The purchase price for temporary walls is between $700 and $2,000, depending on the finish and features. “Most customers want multiple walls such as T-configurations and also a seamless look, all of which pushes up the price,” says Zanger, who also recommends adding soundproofing for more privacy (at an additional cost).
Removal is included within the first year and with at least 30 days notice; otherwise, it will cost $350.
Dr-WALL has been operating since 2007 and has plenty of experience working with NYC buildings.
The purchase price for a 12-foot-wide by 8-foot-high wall with a standard swinging door is $950. Finishes include lattice, which is more affordable and easier to remove, as well as a seamless finish with plaster covering the sheetrock.
Dr-WALL considers all walls to be soundproof but will add additional noise insulation for an extra $60. There’s no cost for reinforcing the wall to mount a TV, though you will need to provide prior notice.
Removal is free with 30 days notice for the first three years. After that it will cost $250.
Besides all other types of payments, Dr-WALL even accepts Venmo.
Manhattan Pressurized Walls (aka MPW), in business since 2009, is what at least a handful of management companies reported as being their company of choice.
Prices start at around $700, with the usual additional costs for different doors and other features. MPW offers extra soundproofing options to make the temporary walls as noise-tampering as regular walls. As the website says, “Need a greater sound barrier? No problem.”
All temporary walls are painted with two coats of Benjamin Moore paint in your choice of White, China White, Linen White, or White Dove in a flat finish. Custom colors and finishes will be charged accordingly, or you can paint the walls yourself.
The lease term is two years, with an option to renew for an undisclosed amount (it will be specified in the lease agreement).
Unless you provide at least four weeks notice, the cost of removal during the lease period is $360.
Brooklyn-based Room Dividers NY has been around since 2004. The company builds all the walls on site and to spec, so there’s no prefabrication.
Prices range from $750-$2,500, with the average being $1,100 for a wall with a standard door.
The lease term is three years and can be extended for another three years for $150. Removal is free of charge during the lease period so long as you provide a 30-day notice.
Long-term renters can choose to skip the renewal fee and purchase the walls outright, in which case removal will be either $150 or $300 depending on how long you’ve had them.
Per the website, a week’s notice is usually sufficient for you to schedule a new installation. The walls are five inches thick, same as regular walls, and “offer similar sound insulation.”
Like other companies, Room Dividers NY offers doors in many sizes but recommends no smaller than 30 inches to make it easy to move furniture in and out.
6. Wall 2 Wall NY
Founded in 2012, Wall 2 Wall was named “Best of NYC 2019 in its category by New York magazine. It is also the go-to company for many landlords throughout the five boroughs.
“As a high-volume company, we have relationships with practically every building in NYC and know what’s allowed and what’s not,” says owner Eddie Sapienza.
The purchase price of the most basic wall with a swinging door is $800 for clients on a budget. But Sapienza says he will build anything a client wants, “including a wall with double-frosted French doors in the center and lighted plexiglass windows on either side.”
Wall 2 Wall also guarantees all mechanical parts such as hinges and door tracks—but not holes punched through walls (it happens).
Removal is free within two years and with 30 days notice, which you can schedule on the company’s website. After that, removal is $350 plus tax.
The company accepts all payments except cash.
—Earlier versions of this article contained reporting and writing by Lucy Cohen Blatter and Donna M. Airoldi.