Buying Sky: The Market for Transferable Development Rights in New York City

The Furman Center for Real Estate & Urban Policy
Furman Center Policy Brief; October 2013

New York City’s zoning code (known as the “Zoning Resolution”) regulates land use in part by limiting the square footage of the building that landowners can develop on their property. Some buildings are built below the applicable limit—because they are constrained by other regulations such as historic preservation rules, they were built subject to earlier, more-restrictive zoning rules, or the owner chose to develop the property less intensely than the zoning allows because of market conditions or other considerations applicable when the building was built. The Zoning Resolution provides limited opportunities for an owner of land that is less than fully developed to transfer her unused development rights to other properties. This enables the recipients of those development rights (known at that point as “transferrable development rights,” “TDRs,” or “air rights”) to develop larger buildings than the Zoning Resolution otherwise permits, while the seller loses the right to ever use those rights on her own property.