Tenement Housing

Tenement housing or a tenement is typically an apartment building, sometimes run down or low standard, that is divided into multiple living areas to fit multiple families.  Tenement housing is most often occupied by the poor social class.

Tenement Housing in North America

               Tenement dwellings in North America first became popular in the 19th century in New York City or the surrounding areas.  They started off as warehouses that would be split up into multiple rooms for immigrant families and workers, but later (in the 1820’s-1830’s) evolved into 3 and 4 floor buildings with windowless internal rooms.  These buildings were a concern to the city because they were prone to fires or building collapses.  Communal water taps were placed into what room was left in these buildings, so tenants had to share a lot of their resources with one another.  By the late 1800’s, there were reported to have been over 500,000 people living in unhealthy and hazardous tenement housing environments.  This was due to the extremely large amount of immigrants that were coming to the New York area for work.  Tenement buildings were known to take up almost 90% of the lot that they covered, until an 1867 law that made changes to the space they could occupy.  Before this law, buildings could be up to 6 stories high with 18 rooms on each floor, with most rooms not receiving proper ventilation or sunlight.  The buildings were not considered to be slums, but were not anything special either.  Very poor ventilation would cause extreme heat in the summer, so most tenants would make use of the fire escapes, roofs and sidewalks by sleeping on them.

Run down tenement buildings in New York City’s East Side, circa 1900-1910

Tenement Housing in Berlin, Germany

               Berlin, Germany’s second most populous city, has been known to have once been the largest tenement city in the world.  Tenement housing with introduced to Berlin during its population increase between 1860 and 1914.  Although Berlin housed a large portion of the world’s tenement houses, they were one of few cities that implemented a few safety guidelines early on.  Tenement buildings had a maximum floor height of 5 stories.  Each building had a courtyard that had to big enough for a fire truck to turn around in.  Some buildings in Berlin housed upwards of 2,000 people, requiring a few police officers to keep order in the buildings.  A study performed by a Berlin clinic from 1901-1920 found that the living conditions of most tenants were inadequate, with some people living in damp basements and under stairs.  A 1962 survey also revealed that 66% of tenants shared staircase toilets and only 19% of families had their own toilet.  Tenement housing in Berlin was generally unpleasant, especially during WWII, needless to say that Berlin actually had it better off than most places.

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-69536-0010, Berlin, Marienstraße, Wohnhaus, Altbau.jpg

A tenement building in East Berlin, 1959. Damage is visible on the face of the building from World War II.

Personal View on Tenement Housing

               In my own opinion, the most challenging thing to deal with if I lived in a tenement housing environment would be sharing the utilities that should be individual necessities to every family.  This would include sharing a toilet, bath, heating, and place to sleep.  Having to live in a tenement housing environment like the one listed above, including sharing uses that every household should have the right to would be difficult to cope with for me.




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