We frequently see rental homes in our area that have non-compliant bedrooms, and this is a summary of what an inspector is likely looking for:
- Privacy. It should have a door that doesn’t open into a public space, like a barber shop, etc. It can’t be a dual-purpose room, such as a bed set up in the kitchen or bathroom. The occupant should not have to walk through an adjoining bedroom to access it. Note: crib rooms and those configured for handicap accessibility may be exempted from this requirement. Some loft bedroom configurations can also be exempted from the “pass through” restriction.
- Lighting and electrical service. There has to be at least one electrically-supplied light and two outlets, one of which can be on the light fixture itself. Note: larger bedrooms may require additional outlets or specific types of outlets or branch circuit protection, for example, TR outlets or AFCI breakers.
- Operating smoke detector. Note: additional requirements also apply in some locales, for example, combo detectors with CO monitoring, 10-year sealed battery back-up, electrical interconnection, etc. Handicapped tenants, such as those with hearing impairments, can compel additional accommodations as well.
- Heating & Ventilation. The area has to be capable to maintain at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit at a distance of 3 feet from the floor and any wall. The room must have a source of natural or mechanical ventilation. Note: any HVAC system must be maintained in working order if the house has one. If ventilation is provided by a window, it must be intact and operable from the inside.
- At least two egress routes. A bedroom needs to have another way to exit in an emergency besides the normal entry door. This can be through a door leading to a hallway that leads outside, a direct exterior door, or an exterior window. If a window, it has to be installed between 24-44 inches from the floor and, it must meet square footage or length and width requirements. Basement egress also has additional requirements that vary by jurisdiction. Note: standard window sizes for the bedroom are generally 24 inch by 36 inch, 24 inch by 46 inch, 28 inch by 54 inch, 28 inch by 66 inch, 28 inch by 70 inch, 34 inch by 46 inch or 34 inch by 62 inch and are either single hung or double hung windows.
- Open square footage 64 square feet or greater. Note: some jurisdictions or ancillary subsidized housing requirements may have higher minimums, for example, 100 square feet minimum for bedrooms hosting foster care children or 7 feet in any direction from the center of the room for some public assistance-funded housing.
- Ceiling height 7 feet or greater throughout at least half of the bedroom. Note: many jurisdictions raise it to 7.5 feet for non-attic/basement bedrooms.
There’s a lot of specious reasoning when it comes to these types of requirements, for example, closets are typically not required and neither are three-prong outlets in older buildings having ungrounded outlets—despite widespread beliefs to the contrary. The area building code enforcement authority will have additional warranty of habitability or fire safety requirements, as do some social services programs. Checking with the permitting office and the department of social services for your area before you invest in renovation is a wise preliminary step. Also, tenants will frequently convert non-compliant basements and attics into bedrooms for “temporary” use by friends or family or subletting for additional income, so it’s a good idea to have a clause in your lease agreement and periodic inspections of the property to cover these potential liabilities.