Putting Up Walls to Bring Down the Rent

by Shilpi Paul

Putting Up Walls to Bring Down the Rent: Figure 1
Temporary wall. Courtesy of Apartment Therapy.

Some luxury apartment buildings in DC, like Yale West, seem made for young people. Amenities that include lounges, party rooms, fitness and business centers make for a social atmosphere, and the dense population means there are plenty of people to hang out with.

However, the demographic that these buildings frequently attract — young grad students and those early in their careers — often don’t have the required funds to meet the steep rents. Despite this hurdle, UrbanTurf is hearing that many young people have found a way to live in these luxury buildings without going broke: just put up walls and transform a one-bedroom into a two or three-bedroom with a tiny living room, but manageable rent.

Ryan Andrews, Paul Halliday and a friend moved into a one-bedroom in Mass Court at 300 Massachusetts Avenue NW last month and did just that. The trio divided up the living room with a wall to create an additional bedroom; one sleeps there, another lives in the den and the lucky one gets the original bedroom. In a building where one-bedrooms rent for $2,500 a month, the configuration brings down the rent, but also the living space, the latter which Andrews does not mind.

“I much prefer this to a group house,” Andrews told UrbanTurf. “This place is by the Metro, brand new, and gorgeous. It was an easy call.”

Group houses in neighborhoods a little bit farther out from the city center have long been an affordable option for renters with limited funds, but an increasing number of young adults are choosing the amenities that luxury buildings have to the large kitchen and living room that group houses offer.

“It is not so important to have a large space to entertain inside the apartment when there is a roof deck, a pool, a party room, and a large lounge,” said Blake Smith, who is considering splitting a small space with a roommate at WestEnd25 on 25th Street.

Putting Up Walls to Bring Down the Rent: Figure 2
Pool at WestEnd25.

Apparently, management in many buildings not only tolerate the dividing trend, but sometimes plant the idea. Steven Reichel, a law school student at Georgetown who wanted to be within walking distance of campus, said the leasing agent at Mass Court was the one to suggest putting up a wall to accommodate more roommates and bring down costs. Others, like Halliday, heard about the trend from friends who had already done it. Initially a bit skeptical of the idea, he checked out a divided apartment and was convinced.

Reichel hired a contractor to put up a wall for about $900, taking care to design one that will leave no permanent mark on the unit. Policies vary building to building; some, like WestEnd25, do not allow temporary walls, so roommates fashion private spaces using free-standing walls or heavy drapes.

For Blake Smith, this constraint highlights what might be the biggest downside to the arrangement: a lack of personal space. Drapes, no matter how heavy, do not offer a lot of privacy. While business centers may offer a quiet place to study and lounges a place to escape your roommate, a life in an apartment with no doors and few walls could get tiring. Smith and his roommate are still looking at other options before they commit to a year without a real wall.

As UrbanTurf has written about previously, a slew of new apartment projects are coming online in the next couple of years. It’ll be interesting to see how these luxury buildings accommodate perhaps a few more residents than they were bargaining for.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/putting_up_walls_to_bring_down_the_rent/5728


  1. Sean Wieland said at 6:43 pm on Wednesday July 18, 2012:
    I have friends who used to do this in NYC. Location has a price and there are those willing to give up space for other benefits.
  1. Caroline said at 7:18 pm on Wednesday July 18, 2012:
    When I moved to DC a year and a half ago, I shared a one-bedroom with two girlfriends in the West End. Can't say that I would do it again, but I see what attracts people. Having access to a building pool on a day like today was priceless.
  1. mona said at 7:37 pm on Wednesday July 18, 2012:
    As a landlord I don't know if all landlords would allow this
  1. hoos30 said at 8:21 pm on Wednesday July 18, 2012:
    Hmm. When people used to do this, it was called "Code Violations" and the city/Feds bulldozed half a dozen neighborhoods. It's a different class of people now, so let's see how long this stays trendy and chic.
  1. RLS said at 10:47 pm on Wednesday July 18, 2012:
    As a former property manager of an older Woodley Park building we absolutely encouraged residents to build temporary walls. These 2,200 square foot 2bed 2 bath apartments had a perfect dining room to convert to a bedroom without affecting airflow, privacy or sunlight. We kept that building on a yearly occupancy average of 98.6% occupied. The only restrictions were contractors for hire and they must be taken down at their expense if the next residents didn't want it. Then the next residents took responsibility. In 4 years, not one wall was taken down. And existing walls were considered a perk for renting the apartment out.
  1. RichieRich said at 2:04 am on Thursday July 19, 2012:
    Not only are city code violations a concern but as a landlord I'd be more concerned with the wear & tear having more people in my home/apt. Not to mention building maintenance costs with more people using things like elevators, pools, gyms etc. Insurance costs are another issue too.....
  1. Rob said at 12:55 pm on Thursday July 19, 2012:
    I'd also add that the kids who do this make lousy neighbors. I live in a "luxury" building that I expected to be full of responsible professionals (naive of me, I know), and instead it's full of kids who act like they're still living in a frat house.
  1. HKRB said at 7:09 pm on Thursday July 19, 2012:
    The writer's assumption that all group houses have large kitchens and living rooms is laughable.
  1. Joel Kelty said at 2:52 am on Tuesday November 27, 2012:
    I just don't see how one could do this in a typical DC apartment and maintain building code required minimum room sizes, acess to daylight, ventilation, emergency egress, etc. Furthermore, these partitions will likely interfere with proper operation of the fire sprinkler and smoke detection systems. Any landlord allowing this would be well advised to discuss with its insurer. Operating a building with an occupancy higher than intended is likely illegal and grounds for denial of insurance coverage in the event of a loss....plus it drives already high rents higher.

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