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What is a Bedroom?
by Don Dunning, ABR, CRB, CRS
DRE Lic. #00768985
Originally appeared in Hills Publications, January 20, 1995

Some years ago, I listed a split-level home. I was told it had "three plus" bedrooms. After touring the property, I explained to the seller why I believed the property actually had only one bedroom and considered the others to be plus rooms. I was careful to disclose this information on the Multiple Listing Service, flyers, ads and on the purchase contract.

The day after it closed escrow, the new owner was running rental ads advertising it as two rental units. The ceiling height in one of the "units," however, was less than the 7í6" minimum for a legal bedroom. Apparently, the new owner was cavalierly disregarding the written disclosures he had received. He was oblivious to the health and safety risks to his prospective tenants and to the legal risk this entailed for him.

I was reminded of this incident when I recently received a flyer from a contractor who does home inspections. The subject was remodeling bedrooms, and it struck me that many buyers and sellers do not fully understand what a bedroom is and what it isnít. After all, the perceived value of a home is often related to the number of bedrooms.

With this in mind, I decided to write an article about the definition of a bedroom. Doing so was the beginning of an unexpected odyssey which culminated in two personal visits and innumerable telephone calls to the City of Oakland departments of building, zoning and inspections. After extensive research, I was not able to locate any approved single document which incorporates all the essentials of a bedroom and I suspect one does not exist in the City of Oakland.

It should also be noted that each jurisdiction may have somewhat different codes and interpretations. In addition, local building codes may have changed over the years. In those cases, an older home may not be held to the standard of the most current code unless it has been remodeled, or if not doing so would allow a dangerous situation to exist.

If you have any questions or doubts about a specific situation, check with the appropriate city or county building department. Professional home inspectors are also a good source of information.

From data I was able to gather, I have pieced together Oaklandís requirements for a room to be called a bedroom.

Size: A bedroom must be at least 70 square feet and must have a minimum of seven lineal feet from one wall to another. (Uniform Building Code)

Windows: A bedroom must have at least one window which works. Current code calls for the sill to be no more than 44 inches above the floor, and the window must be at least 20"x24" and at least 5.7 sq. ft. If bedroom windows have security bars, at least one of the windows must have an approved inside quick release mechanism which can be operated with one hand or foot. (Uniform Building Code)

Light & Ventilation: There are specific code requirements regarding the minimum amount of glazed openings for light and the minimum ventilation for a bedroom.  (Uniform Building Code)

Exits: A bedroom must have at least two different exits. A window can be counted as one of the exits. (Uniform Building Code)

Ceiling Heights: The minimum height required is 7í6". (Uniform Building Code)

Proximity to Garage: A bedroom cannot be located with a door opening into a garage because of the danger of carbon monoxide fumes. (Uniform Building Code)

Converted Garage: It is common to see garages converted without permit and used as bedrooms or rumpus rooms with a bed for sleeping. These are usually illegal, sometimes dangerous situations.

Gas Appliances: A room cannot be considered a bedroom if the sole access to the hot water heater and/or furnace is through that room. Hot water heaters are not allowed in a bedroom. Furnaces are generally not permitted. There are some exceptions; these can be verified with the local building department. (Plumbing and Mechanical Codes)

Closets: Although not specified by code, planners will call for a closet in order for the room to be considered a bedroom. It is preferred, but not mandatory, that the closet be built-in. The closet can be portable or prefab. There is flexibility in this area.

Access: If a room is accessed only through another room, that other room is not considered a bedroom. This intermediate space is looked at as a hallway. (Zoning Code)

What would todayís value of the home be if the plus rooms were bedrooms? Take that into account in the offer you make. Buyers will do the same when you sell the home.

What are the health and safety considerations with the plus rooms? 

Could I have future problems with the local building department?

If conditions exist which require correction, how much would that cost? Keep in mind that some circumstances can be cured relatively quickly and inexpensively and do not, in fact, negatively affect the value. 

Is the room configuration esthetically pleasing to me? Whether it is or isnít should be reflected in the price.

Final thoughts

People buy and sell homes every day without necessarily giving much thought to these issues. Just because a property is advertised as a "three bedroom," doesnít mean it actually is. Protect yourself by understanding that having a bed in a room doesnít always make it a bedroom.

Don Dunning has been a full-time, licensed real estate agent since 1979 and a broker since 1982 and is past president of the Oakland Association of Realtors. He provides sales and hourly listing or consulting services with Wells & Bennett Realtors in Oakland and is an expert witness in real estate matters. Call him at (510) 485-7239, or e-mail him at , to put his knowledge and experience to work for you.

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