What Are The Legal Requirements For A Bedroom?

A Look At The Legal Requirements For A Bedroom

I get this question on a pretty consistent basis from my agent friends so I decided to write this post and explain the legal requirements for a bedroom. Please leave a comment below with any thoughts you have.

What Are The Legal Requirements For A Bedroom

The legal requirements for a bedroom discussed in this post have been taken from the International Residential Code (IRC) which is a collection of minimum standards for the construction of one and two-family residences. Many municipalities that do not have their own regulations will default to the guidelines established by the IRC.

While the IRC covers everything from building, plumbing, electrical and more I’m only referencing their guidelines for bedrooms. Keep in mind that while the IRC has their specific requirements for a room to be considered a bedroom you must also look at what buyers typically expect when buying a home, such as with closets.

Another thing to consider is that while a room many not legally be considered a bedroom it will still contribute value to the property. There are two components to value in this situation which are the contributory value of the square footage as well as the value in functionality.

So let’s take a look at what the IRC outlines as the requirements for a bedroom.

IRC Requirements for Bedrooms

Room Size – A bedroom must have a minimum size of 70 square feet. If the bedroom will be occupied by more than one person it mustInternational Residential Code have a minimum of 50 square feet per person.

Each wall in the room must not be smaller than seven feet. A room that is six feet by twelve feet could not be called a bedroom even though it meets the size guidelines it does not meet the minimum wall length requirement.

In addition to wall length requirements, at least half of the ceiling must have a height of seven feet. I usually see this type of situation in rooms that have been built over a garage and that have an angled ceiling.

Room Access – You cannot pass through one bedroom to get to another bedroom. The functional utility of a house would be diminished along with its value if it were necessary to pass through one bedroom to get to another one.

Egress – Egress is a fancy word that describes how to exit a room. The IRC requires two exits in a room with one being the entry door and the other being another door or a window. If another door is present it must lead to the exterior of the home rather than another interior area. The IRC states that “every habitable space shall have at least one openable window”.

If a window is the second form of egress then it must meet IRC requirements. It must be at least 24 inches tall, 20 inches wide, and have an area of at least 5.7 square feet.

In addition, it cannot be higher than 44 inches above the floor and no lower than 24 from the floor. These requirements allow someone to crawl out of the window while also preventing children from falling out of the window.

Windows must meet specific requirements regarding the glass area. All window glass area must be at least 8 percent of the floor area and the access space when the windows are opened must measure at least 4% of the floor area.

Electrical – Bedrooms must have at least two electrical outlets or one light fixture and one electrical outlet.

Septic Requirements – Homes that utilize a private septic system have additional items to consider. The size of the septic system is determined by the number of occupants and bedrooms in a home.

If a septic system is set up to accommodate a three-bedroom home and later another bedroom is added the septic system must be upgraded or you cannot consider the new room a bedroom.

Closets – I left this for last because it is one of the most confusing features of a bedroom. Technically speaking the IRC DOES NOT require a bedroom to have a closet, however, there are some things you MUST consider.

You must consider when the house was built and what are the expectations of the buyers in the area. This will help you determine if you can and should label a room as a bedroom.

Looking at when the home was built will help determine why no closets were included. Many older homes do not have closets because they were not common or expected at the time of construction.

In the past, most if not all people had wardrobes to store their clothes in so closets were not necessary. Many of these houses still exist in various areas and part of their charm is their architectural style.

To maintain the historical status or style no closets were added, however, this is what buyers expect and are accustomed to. A lack of closets is not considered a negative attribute and the home’s value is not affected.

On the flip side of the coin, if you find that buyers are adding closets to these older homes then that is a direct indication that they are needed and expected and it would probably not be a good idea to call a room without a closet a bedroom.

For new construction homes, you must also look at what the prevalent trends are in the area. Are bedrooms in new homes being built without closets? Probably not, which tells us that builders are meeting the demands of buyers for new homes.

Something else to consider when pricing a home is the various components of value. You have the value from the square footage and value from the functional utility of the room/home.

While you may not be able to call a room a bedroom because it does not meet the IRC requirements it still contributes to value because of the square footage. Even though you cannot call it a bedroom buyers can still use it as such if they want.

As you see there are many legal requirements for a bedroom that owners and agents should be aware of. This will prevent mislabeling rooms and misrepresenting the property.

Question

Do you have any other questions about the requirements for a room to be called a bedroom? The legal requirements for a bedroom do not have to limit what a room can be used for and the possibilities are endless depending on your imagination. As always, thanks for reading.

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Comments

  1. Earl C. Catron, SRA, Realtor Emeritus says

    All of the items you listed and some of the comments are very interesting. However, I submit that these are simply “rules” that in my opinion do not get to the heart of the issue.
    We appraisers are in a “market” dictated position. We need to determine what the subject market area accepts as a bedroom. For example there are areas in my area of southeast Florida where the residents convert areas of the property such as garage, porch, etc. into bedrooms. This situation is found in the area of lower price ranges where it is not unusual to find these conversion to bedrooms. The market dictates that these rooms can and should be addressed as bedrooms. In the higher end markets these conversions are rarely found.
    In the case where the market tells you that the conversions to bedrooms are acceptable there are often local requirements for egress, ceiling height, etc. but then what you have is a bedroom that possible violates local code. But it is still a bedroom if the market in the area tells you so, and the owners will still use them as bedrooms.
    The reason that closets are a common response from Realtors is that many years ago the MLS systems decided to make that a requirement when listing a property on the MLS system. It has stuck as a requirement for half a century until present time. However, In my opinion, often a closet is not absolutely required. First, it is relatively simple and cheap to add a closet and second the market in many market area does not require a closet.
    I do agree that in market area above the low end that a bedroom must have direct access to bath without having to travel thru other living areas.
    In conclusion I take notice that so called experts who are not appraisers have encroached on our profession by making “rules” or “guidelines”. eg.> FNMA, FHA, IRC, etc., These entities develop the rules or guidelines that often impinge on the ability of the appraiser.

    • Great points, Earl. I think the bottom line is that we must “read” the market like you said to find out what is typical in the area and even within a certain price range of homes. Market demand drives value so we must see what is expected in the market and that will tell us what is valuable to buyers. The rules imposed by FNMA, HUD, and IRC will not prevent people from using rooms as they see fit, however when there is money being loaned on these homes then they must meet the guidelines imposed or they will not qualify for a mortgage so they are important in that respect. Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts.

  2. John F Fisher says

    I know its not listed but one other factor I was taught and consider. A bedroom should have at least a simi- private access to a bathroom. As such, for example, a room off the entry which requires walking across the main living area to get to the bathroom is considered unacceptable to be called a bedroom, even if it has a closet. Especially if it has double french doors. Really, I’ve had agents try to get away with that.

    • That’s a good point, John. I have seen this type of set up as well and it does not make sense. Even though it meets the definition of a bedroom it probably not be used as one for the reason you mention. I think there is a thought that the more bedrooms you have the better but after you get past what is expected in the area any more really does not matter.

  3. Good topic Tom. It gets tricky because there is no one-size-fits-all definition from Fannie Mae or any of the GSEs that I’m aware of. There is of course real estate folklore handed down through the generations about closets and such. I’ve found many people will argue their point of view without really having much basis. It seems good to consider IRC, local code, and other sources. It’s like we need to piece together different sources.

    • Agree, Ryan. There does seem to be a lot of “folklore” passed around. I think we must all get on the same page with the definition so that we can compare apples to apples.

  4. Tom: I always read your posts, and appreciation your contributions to the industry. As a 30 year veteran, this definition of a bedroom, as it applies to appraisal, is perhaps the best and most informative I have ever read. Scanned and saved it for posterity, so if I am violating a copyright please let me know. Thanks.

  5. Absolutely great article. Bedrooms are such a misunderstood topic, I truly don’t know why, because (as you stated) they are clearly defined. HUD Handbook 4000.1 definitely list some qualifiers for a bedroom but IRC breaks it down completely and definitively. Thanks Tom for all that you do; this is just one more example of your commitment to excellence in the real estate profession.

    • Thanks so much for the kind words, Melissa. In an effort to increase the marketability of a house I think agents strive to consider all possible bedrooms. At least that is what I see in my area. Hopefully, this will shed some light on the subject.

  6. If a window is the second form of egress then it must meet IRC requirements. It must be at least 24 inches tall, 20 inches wide, and have an area of at least 5.7 square feet.

    I don’t follow the 5.7 sf

    • I believe the 5.7 square feet guideline is to make sure that there is adequate room for occupants to exit through the window if they need to. Thanks for reading.

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