Lot Line Windows: Should You Be Concerned?

Not Your Friendly Windows

Imagine you found the perfect new home in NYC. It's in a glitzy new tower, and you're very excited about the high-floor unit with windows in every direction. You've fallen in love with the panoramic views that show the breathtaking skyline of the bustling city of New York. Sure, it costs a fortune, but it has everything you've been dreaming of. 

There's only one catch: the agent mentions something about lot line windows...What does that mean, and should you really care? The short answer is maybe. The long answer is it's complicated, and you'll definitely want to do some extra due diligence before moving forward with the sale. To help you figure out what's going on, here is a look at lot line windows in NYC real estate. 

What is a Lot Line Window in NYC Real Estate?

The New York City real estate market is unlike any other market in the world. Prime real estate is very valuable, which means that every inch counts. The median price per square foot for real estate in some of Manhattan's most desirable neighborhoods is over $2000. So, to get as much livable square footage out of their investment as possible, developers will often build right up to the property line. 

A lot in real estate is a parcel of land suitable for building, identified by the city tax map. The lot line is the boundary between an individual property and the neighboring plot. Therefore, a lot line window is one that is within a wall that forms the lot line of a building. 

When a developer builds right up to the edge of the property line, it's typical for the outer walls to feature windows that straddle the boundary between the neighboring buildings. While it may not be obvious when you view a property, lot line windows can cause issues down the line if there is future development in the adjacent lot.

New York City brick apartment building windows

What are the Drawbacks of Lot Line Windows? 

While lot line windows are not an immediate cause for concern, it's important to be aware of their existence and how they could impact your unit's long-term livability and value. If anyone constructs a new building next door or an existing structure is expanded up to the level of your unit, the lot line windows will have to go. 

Not only will your view be obstructed, but they'll need to be bricked up for safety reasons. If there was ever a fire, the flames may be able to spread from building to building through any open windows. So, by law, lot line windows will need to be sealed off if another building is constructed or expanded. 

So when you purchase a residence with lot line windows in NYC, there is always a chance they'll eventually need to be bricked up. That means a reduction in natural light and airflow into the home, which will not only impact your comfort but can also bring down the property value. In some cases, it may not matter. For instance, if you already have lots of windows in the living room, you may lose one or two without disrupting the ambiance. However, it can be especially detrimental to bedrooms. 

A space must have at least one permanent window to legally be considered a bedroom. Therefore, lot line windows do not qualify according to the New York State bedroom window requirements. You will often see rooms with lot-line windows advertised as "home offices" or "bonus rooms" for this reason. 

But if the room was improperly advertised as a bedroom, it could be a costly mistake. The loss of an entire bedroom due to a secret lot line window can radically reduce the value of your property, especially if you're losing sunlight and fresh air as well. So that's why it's crucial to know about their existence. 

How to Spot a Lot Line Window? 

In some cases, lot line windows are easy to spot, and in others, it may be more challenging. They are typically found on the sides of the building facing the neighboring structures. They'll never be in the front of the building facing the street and usually aren't found in the back. 

Another way to tell is to look at the adjacent buildings. Are the buildings flush up against each other, or is there a gap or alleyway in between? Say your building is 20 stories tall, and the neighboring building is 10. If the building next door were to be expanded to the same height, would you look out your window at a brick wall? If the answer is yes, then it's almost definitely a lot line window. But if there's a bit of breathing room in between, you may be in the clear. 

Another way to identify lot line windows is to check the public records for the property line definition. Tax maps are available online and show exactly where the lot line begins and ends. You can also search public records to see who owns the air rights to the adjacent building and whether there is potential for construction in the future. Real estate attorneys can also be a great resource for information on property lines and help with searching public records.

Building under construction

Why Do Developers Include Lot Line Windows? 

Even though they can be a nuisance to homeowners, developers include lot line windows to increase the desirability of a unit. If it's an older building, it may have been constructed before some of the neighboring structures, and they weren't anticipating the development of modern high-rises. 

Even if it's a newer building, they may build up to the edge of the property line to get as much livable square footage out of the land they purchased as possible. Adding windows can greatly increase the property's potential value, especially if the unit is on a higher floor. So if there are no signs that new construction is coming in the near future, it's often worth adding new windows even if one day they need to be bricked up. But that's why it's important to be aware of any lot line windows and how they may impact your investment. 

What Do You Need to Know About Lot Line Windows? 

Just because a property has lot line windows doesn't mean it's necessarily undesirable or destined to decrease in value. However, it is an additional risk that you should consider when submitting an offer. Here are a few things to consider when looking at a home with lot-line windows:

  • Newer developments will usually disclose whether or not a residence has any lot line windows under the "special risks" section of the offering plan. 
  • A common misconception is that lot line windows are safer in historic districts where construction of taller buildings is limited. This is not always the case, as there are ways to get around this limitation, plus the construction of smaller buildings and expansion of existing structures can also put them in jeopardy. 
  • If you see a room that could fit a bed referred to as an "additional living space" or "home office," it usually means it has a lot of line windows. This is because it can’t legally be called a bedroom. 
  • Some developers will purchase the air rights to the neighboring building to protect the views. While this may save your lot line windows for now, they can still be sold in the future. 

Should You Buy a Home in NYC with a Lot Line Window? 

Whether or not you decide to purchase a home with a lot of windows depends on your personal preference. Before deciding, consider how much the potential loss will impact your ability to enjoy the unit and your overall investment. 

Mukul Lalchandani, founder of Undivided, suggests that if you choose to move forward with a home that has lot line windows, you should do so with the realization that someday it may end up getting covered. If you're fine with that, then move forward with the sale. 

The likelihood that the windows will be covered up all depends on how high your unit is and whether the neighbors have the air rights to build up that high. A good way to estimate whether or not there is potential for your lot line windows to get blocked is to look at the building next door. If it's an apartment building, there's a decent chance it may get built up at some point in the future. But if it's a residential co-op or utility junction, you may be safe. Those rarely go anywhere. 

But if you lose your views, it's not the end of the world. Think of lot line windows as a bonus and enjoy it while you can. If it goes away, it is what it is. This is New York City, and these things happen all the time. 

Did you know that when you join NewBuildClub you get access to every new build that exists in the market today and those arriving soon? We can even tell you every single unit that exists in a new build, layout, pricing, and if they have lot line windows or not. To join our insider list, simply visit our website and sign up today to get started. At the moment, it's only in Beta and on an invite-only basis, but add your name to the queue, and we'll let you know when seats open up.

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