What is a building?

A building can refer to any multi-occupancy residential rental property. However, the term is most often associated with overcrowded and dilapidated buildings with poor living conditions.

Apartment buildings date back to the growth of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century and the sudden influx of people moving into cities. In modern times, the term is associated with downtown housing or low-income housing projects.

Key points to remember

  • Tenements can refer to low-income housing units characterized by high occupancy and below-average conditions.
  • Rental housing dates back to the 19th century but still exists in the 21st century, often in the form of social housing complexes.
  • Apartment buildings first appeared during the Industrial Revolution, when newly arrived immigrants seeking opportunities and work needed affordable housing.
  • In New York, apartment buildings, for example, were low-rise apartment buildings, often without indoor plumbing, cramped living spaces, and not enough ventilation or access to natural light.
  • The Tenement Act of 1901 required indoor plumbing for toilets, fireproofing, and required better ventilation and lighting.

Understanding Buildings

Historically, the word “building” meant any permanent residential property used for rental purposes. These can be houses, land and other buildings and the rights attached to this property. In Scotland the word is still used mostly in this way, mainly when referring to a multi-occupancy building. The word is also used in this way for certain legal purposes. For example, a “building in a dominant position” is an area benefiting from a servitudewhile a “servient land” is an estate subject to the burden of an easement.

In the United States, however, the word has come to refer primarily to an overcrowded, run-down apartment building for low-income tenants. This building usually has many units under one roof, divided by walls to give each family privacy. The rental agreement usually involves a contract that specifies the period during which the apartment will be rented to the tenant and the cost of renting the property.

The Tenement House Act of 1867 legally defined (for the first time) an immovable as “any house, building or part thereof, which is let, leased, rented or let to be occupied or is occupied, such as the house or the residence of more than three families living independently of each other and cooking on the premises, or by more than two families on one floor, living and cooking together and having a common right in the corridors, stairs, courtyards , toilets, or private, or some of them.

The history of buildings

During the industrial revolution, many buildings were built to house working class families, many of whom moved to cities to take up manufacturing jobs. Other buildings, such as bourgeois houses or warehouses, have been converted into apartment buildings. These repurposed buildings were known as “rookeries”, after the term for a collection of nests.

In 1867, the New York State Legislature passed the Tenement House Act, which defined a tenement as any building rented to at least three families, each living independently but sharing hallways, stairways, and yards. At the end of the 19th century, rental buildings contrasted with bourgeois buildings.

Some of the best-known buildings existed on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 19th century. Many were three- or four-story buildings converted into so-called “railway flats”, many of which lacked windows. These buildings were poorly regulated and were constantly threatened with collapse or fire. Communal water taps and water toilets were often found in the narrow spaces between buildings. An 1865 report claimed that 500,000 people lived in tenements. Many of these residents were immigrant families, and at that time the Lower East Side was one of the most densely populated places on earth.

The Tenement Act of 1901 dramatically improved living conditions, requiring better lighting and fireproofing, as well as replacing toilets with indoor toilets connected to city sewers.

What is rental housing?

In the 19th century, rental housing was single-family buildings divided into multiple living spaces. Often cramped and low-rise apartments, the rooms were built “railway style”, which meant windowless rooms and poor ventilation. Many properties were overcrowded and lacked indoor plumbing.

Are there buildings today?

Legally, the term “building” refers to an apartment building with multiple dwellings, usually with a few apartments on each floor that all share an entrance staircase. However, some people refer to apartment buildings as a reference to low income housing.

Are the buildings illegal?

No. The buildings were apartment complexes and they were not illegal, however, the conditions were unsanitary and sometimes dangerous. The Tenement Act of 1901 was passed to protect people who lived in tenements and mandated fireproofing of buildings, indoor plumbing and ventilation.

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