Non-Conforming Bedrooms?

A room must conform to specific requirements in order for it to be considered a bedroom or sleeping room. The reason for this law is that the inhabitant must be able to quickly escape in case of fire or another emergency.

Why would a homeowner use a non-conforming room as a bedroom? Some of the reasons include:

  • to earn money from it as a rental. While they run the risk of being discovered by the city, landlords will profit by renting out rooms that are not legally bedrooms;
  • to increase the value of the home. All other considerations being equal, a four-bedroom house will usually sell for more than a three-bedroom house; and
  • lack of knowledge of code requirements. To the untrained eye, there is little obvious difference between a conforming bedroom and non-conforming bedroom. When an emergency happens, however, the difference will be more apparent. If you have any questions about safety requirements, ask your inspector during your next scheduled inspection.

bedroom property guidingHomeowners run serious risks when they use a non-conforming room as a bedroom. An embittered tenant, for instance, may bring their landlord to court, especially if the tenant was forced out when the faux bedroom was exposed. The landlord, upon being exposed, might choose to adjust the bedroom to make it code-compliant, but this can cost thousands of dollars. Landlords can also be sued if they sell the home after having advertised it as having more bedrooms than it actually has. And the owner might pay more than they should be paying in property tax if they incorrectly list a non-conforming bedroom as a bedroom. Perhaps the greatest risk posed by rooms that unlawfully serve as bedrooms stems from the reason these laws exist in the first place: rooms lacking egress can be deadly in case of an emergency. For instance, on January 5, 2002, four family members sleeping in the basement of a Gaithersburg, Maryland, townhome were killed by a blaze when they had no easy escape.

There are requirements in the International Residential Code (IRC) that can be used as a general guide, but bear in mind that the local municipality determines the legal definition of a bedroom. Such local regulations can vary widely among municipalities, and what qualifies as a bedroom in one city might be more properly called a den in a nearby city. In some municipalities, the room must be above grade, be equipped with an AFCI or smoke alarm to be considered a conforming bedroom, for instance. Ceiling height and natural lighting might also be factors. The issue can be extremely complex, so it’s best to learn the code requirements for your area. Nevertheless, the IRC can be useful, and for those that are more technically-minded, I will share those requirements next week.

Feel free to ask a question or comment below.  You can also contact me at 239-481-3977 OR russell@bestinspector.com

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Posted on August 14, 2012, in Inspections and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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