Can I rent out my basement?
August 31, 2017 5:04 PM   Subscribe

I want to find a roommate for a room in a basement but I'm not sure if I'm allowed to - or if I should.

I'm a first time home-owner with a single-family house (in Chicago.) When I bought it, the owner was using the basement as a bedroom/lounge area. It is a finished basement, with a bathroom, laundry room, and a big closet. It was sold as a 2/2, but sometimes appears on the MLS as a 3/2.

I would like to rent out the basement as a bedroom space - not a separate apartment, but just have a roommate whose room happens to be in the basement. They would have their own bathroom down there, and free access to the rest of the house upstairs (kitchen, living room, dining room, office.) We would share the laundry room.

I've been working on making some cosmetic updates, but I'm suddenly paranoid I shouldn't be renting this space out. I have been going through the building codes trying to figure out if it's a legal room. I can't tell if there's a difference between what counts as a legal room on the MLS, and what counts as a legal room in terms of housing code (e.g. don't rent out somewhere unsafe). My main concern is safety - I would never want to put a potential tenant/roommate in an unsafe situation. My second, more minor concern, is that I wouldn't want a potential disgruntled roommate to call some sort of housing authority and take me to court, have to pay fines, etc.

Here's a sketch of the layout of the whole basement.

The window is 30x36, so I believe it counts as a form of egress. Then there is an exterior door, which has about 5 steps up to the backyard; should count as a second form of egress. There's a standard deadbolt on that door - no interior keys needed. There's also interior stairs up to the main level, but I'm not sure if that counts as a form of egress or not. The ceilings are 7 feet.

I have two main areas of concern. One, the water heater and furnace are in a sort of very large closet that is in the center of the basement, and dry-walled in, but one side has a large opening - there's currently just your basic slatted folding closet doors in front of that. The entrance to the "bedroom" that's next to the utility closet has a door, but I'm not sure if that's enough separation.

My second area of concern is whether the bedroom needs a closing door - as you can see, there are basically two hallways that lead into the "bedroom." The one on the right has a door, but the one on the left does not. The layout is private enough that I don't think any potential roommates would have a problem with it, but is it against code somehow?

I can't find a straight answer anywhere. If the current space is NOT safe/legal to rent out, then I would add drywall or doors or whatever in whichever spot would fix the problem. But I'm not even sure which spot that would be, and I may be totally over-thinking it. It definitely FEELS like a livable, decent space.

Any real-estate or landlord-ing experts that can chime in?

(Bonus question - I have a spare room upstairs too, but it's only 10x10 and has no closet. Plus, they'd have to walk down the stairs to use "their" bathroom. I would really like to maintain separate bathrooms. Small + no closet + bathroom on a different floor is a deal breaker, right?)
posted by ohsnapdragon to Law & Government (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
The window is 30x36, so I believe it counts as a form of egress. Then there is an exterior door, which has about 5 steps up to the backyard; should count as a second form of egress. There's a standard deadbolt on that door - no interior keys needed. There's also interior stairs up to the main level, but I'm not sure if that counts as a form of egress or not. The ceilings are 7 feet.

Yeah, the stairs to the main floor are one form of egress. You need two total. If that's the size of the actual part of the window that opens, that's big enough. You generally need a 20"Wx24"H opening, and that opening can also be no more than 44" off the floor (your local code may vary). A door to the exterior would generally count, but I don't know if yours will since its at the end of a hallway and not actually within the room (but there doesn't appear to be an interior door, so the hallway isn't actually separate... there's a lot of gray area there).

Minimum ceiling height for a non-kitchen/ -bathroom/ -laundry/ -storage space is generally 7'-6", so that might block you.
posted by LionIndex at 5:56 PM on August 31


Relevant code sections from the 2012 IBC (some jurisdictions are on the 2015 version, but this section of code has been pretty much the same for 20 years):

1208.1 Minimum Room Widths
Habitable spaces, other than a kitchen, shall be not less than 7 feet (2134 mm) in any plan dimension. Kitchens shall have a clear passageway of not less than 3 feet (914 mm) between counter fronts and appliances or counter fronts and walls.

1208.2 Minimum Ceiling Heights
Occupiable spaces, habitable spaces and corridors shall have a ceiling height of not less than 7 feet 6 inches (2286 mm). Bathrooms, toilet rooms, kitchens, storage rooms and laundry rooms shall be permitted to have a ceiling height of not less than 7 feet (2134 mm).
Exceptions:
1. In one- and two-family dwellings, beams or girders spaced not less than 4 feet (1219 mm) on center shall be permitted to project not more than 6 inches (152 mm) below the required ceiling height.
2. If any room in a building has a sloped ceiling, the prescribed ceiling height for the room is required in one-half the area thereof. Any portion of the room measuring less than 5 feet (1524 mm) from the finished floor to the ceiling shall not be included in any computation of the minimum area thereof.
3. The height of mezzanines and spaces below mezzanines shall be in accordance with Section 505.1.

1208.2.1 Furred Ceiling
Any room with a furred ceiling shall be required to have the minimum ceiling height in two-thirds of the area thereof, but in no case shall the height of the furred ceiling be less than 7 feet (2134 mm).

1208.3 Room Area
Every dwelling unit shall have no fewer than one room that shall have not less than 120 square feet (13.9 m2) of net floor area. Other habitable rooms shall have a net floor area of not less than 70 square feet (6.5 m2).


Your upstairs room would have to have an egress window as well, but it sounds like there the issue is more marketability than code.
posted by LionIndex at 6:06 PM on August 31 [1 favorite]


MLS really means nothing – it is a marketing tool. Does your city have a good website for permitting? Do you know if your basement was done under permit? In my city, they have guidelines for what is allowed when converting a basement to living space and they allow a lowered ceiling height and more generous stair requirements among other things. For my locality, any bedroom in a basement is required to have an egress window. Any other egress is secondary. There are minimum width and height requirements for an egress window but also a minimum total area requirement and requirements for how the window-well is sized, sill height, etc.. Your city should be able to tell you what is required there. The best would be if the project had been permitted and then you would know that the city signed off on it and inspected it. Maybe there's a place you can search for permitting history on your basement?

The things you would want for your roommate – adequate egress in case of fire, adequate ventilation, a fire alarm/CO2 alarm located per code. If radon gas is an issue, you should test and see if you need to mitigate for it.

And you might look into what landlord standards there are in your city. It might be different that you're renting a room but even knowing what the basic standards are might help you make the most of your space. I don't think you would lose anything by looking into these rules and then seeing how they apply to your space.
posted by amanda at 9:10 PM on August 31


Some jurisdictions also require than any room to be defined as a bedroom have a closet (in addition to minimum area/ceiling height and having egress with a suitable size/maximum sill height) I would suggest you check with your local building department -- either their website, or you can call them (essentially anonymously) and ask questions. They won't demand your address and then come out for a spiteful inspection of everything wrong about your house just because you asked them about the requirements for basement bedrooms.
posted by janell at 9:22 PM on August 31 [1 favorite]


My second area of concern is whether the bedroom needs a closing door - as you can see, there are basically two hallways that lead into the "bedroom." The one on the right has a door, but the one on the left does not. The layout is private enough that I don't think any potential roommates would have a problem with it, but is it against code somehow?

This may be a housing authority question over a code question. Like, there has to be a doorway to access the room. A bedroom without a door provided might not be considered "rentable" by a housing authority. But you could probably easily get away with it. But I think any tenant would prefer the privacy.

For your layout, that hallway needs to be a certain width per code (what is it?) but it seems like adding a door there would be a no-brainer. So, are the winding stairs going down to your left or down to the right? As you come down the stairs do you face the laundry or the bedroom door/utility room? Can you do a full circle around the furnace room or is that area a dead end? If you come down and face the laundry then I'd put a door to the right so that the bathroom is part of the private space.

As long as the window is truly sized for egress, you could add a door to the bathroom hallway and not have a problem. If it is undersized (per code), you likely have to leave the hallway open to the door that goes straight out.
posted by amanda at 9:25 PM on August 31


Bonus question answer: no, not a dealbreaker for some. If your basement ceiling height (or other issue) is going to make that space un-rentable as a proper bedroom, consider advertising "a bedroom + personal bathroom + office space," and your prospective renter can decide if the layout works for them or not.
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:36 PM on August 31


Check your local statutes, obviously, but a closet being required by law is essentially an urban legend.
posted by lalex at 5:24 AM on September 1 [1 favorite]


Have you checked out the "room for rent" section of Craigslist? It won't tell you what is legal, per se, but it might give you a sense of comparable spaces.
posted by oceano at 6:22 AM on September 1


I can't believe I never checked the ceiling height! I think that precludes it right there. I'll focus on renting out the upstairs bedroom. Thanks!
posted by ohsnapdragon at 6:23 PM on September 1


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