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