What makes a closet a closet that can make a room a bedroom?
February 29, 2012 3:11 PM   Subscribe

What makes a closet legal enough to turn a room into a bedroom?

I live in a house that has rooms built variously between 1800 and 1850. Needless to say, the original builders did not build closets in the rooms where people slept. As a result, we have several rooms with beds and bureaus/dressers that are not legally bedrooms if we ever sell (real estate taxes are based on less stringent rules, apparently).

If we were to build closets in the rooms, what rules do we have to follow? Do the closets have to be built in or permanent or attached to the wall in some way? Do they have to reach the ceiling? Are there width requirements? Height requirements? Depth requirements? I live in Virginia, but surely there must be guidelines somewhere.
posted by julen to Home & Garden (16 answers total)
I do not know of any requirement that a bedroom must have a closet. There are code rules requiring a bedroom to have a window. And the square feet area of the window relates in some way to the square feet of the room. I do not remember the ratio.
posted by JayRwv at 3:19 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

IANAReal Estate Person of any variety, but a little bit of googling leads me to believe that, in fact, closets are not required, legally. See the discussions here and here. More googling seems to indicate that this is just a common myth. However, lenders and appraisers seem to have the right to make value judgments about this sort of thing.
posted by brainmouse at 3:20 PM on February 29, 2012

I can't imagine Virginia actually has a law that says pre-closet houses do not have any bedrooms.
posted by rhizome at 3:28 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Generally a closet is a minimum of 2 feet in depth and the height can vary. A standard door is roughly 6'8" so most closets are taller than that. If you have very high ceilings, you can either finish it out so you have a very deep "shelf" on top of your closet space or you could enclose it and put cabinet doors on it to provide more accessible storage.

But, everyone is right. It tends to be a real estate convention as opposed to code. So, if you have two bedrooms with conventional closets and a third without, they might call that a bonus room or den.
posted by amanda at 3:36 PM on February 29, 2012

I rented a house in NY state and it was a requirement for the "bedrooms" to have a closet. One bedroom had an armoire that was affixed to the wall and that counted.
posted by thewestinggame at 3:43 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

The above commenters are correct: there is no building code that says a bedroom must have a closet to be legally classified as a bedroom. But planners can call for a closet in order for the room to be considered a bedroom from a real estate point of view.

For a closet to be worth the money spent on construction, it should be full-height (8'-0" or higher), be attached to the wall in accordance with seismic code, and be at least 24" deep.

FYI: state codes vary, but in general, a bedroom must:

- be at least 70 sq. ft. and have a minimum of seven lineal feet from one wall to another, not including the closet.

- have at least one window which works. Usually code calls for the sill to be no more than 44" above the floor, 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.

- meet specific code requirements regarding the minimum amount of glazed openings for light and the minimum ventilation for a bedroom.

- have at least two different means of egress. A window can be counted as one of the means if it meets certain criteria.

- have a minimum ceiling height of 7’-6".

- not be located with a door opening into a garage.

- not be the sole access to the hot water heater and/or furnace.
posted by Specklet at 3:44 PM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

Are you sure you are correct about the legal bedroom thing?

Most homes are grand-fathered to rules at the time of construction - unless a substantial renovation occurs (which in FLA, is more the 50% of any specific room or area).

In construction, the number of bedrooms is an important issue in permitting. Plumbing pipes and septic tanks have to be able to manage certain occupancy numbers, and electrical rules are different in bedrooms and sitting rooms.

If a room was designated as a bedroom, and was properly built according to code at the time of construction, that room is a bedroom. I can't imagine that construction law would strictly require a room to be designated a bedroom, and real estate law would require the exact opposite (just because closets were not required by code 50yrs ago.)

Any code requirements you find in your jurisdiction about the construction of a bedroom, those are new construction codes. Rules are different when doing renovation to an existing structure. You can renovate the kitchen, and not be required to install a closet in the bedrooms. But it is still a bedroom.
posted by Flood at 3:48 PM on February 29, 2012

I rented a house in NY state and it was a requirement for the "bedrooms" to have a closet.

Can you show me where you found this rule? I've been looking through all the rental guidelines for NY and can't find it, but it might have been a town or county specific rule instead of an NY State rule, maybe?
posted by brainmouse at 3:59 PM on February 29, 2012

Might be worth talking to a local real estate agent about what the bump in your expected sales price would be for turning non-conforming bedrooms into conforming ones. (That's the term of art to google for, if case you're wondering.) I'm currently shopping for a house, and agents put into the MLS the actual number of bedrooms (sometimes REALLY stretching the term) and then just indicate if they're conforming or not. I've never avoided looking at a house because the bedrooms are non-conforming; in some cases it's no biggie, and in other cases what people are calling a bedroom is clearly a dank little gross room in the basement that no one in their right mind would ever sleep in. I suspect that if your bedrooms are clearly bedrooms in terms of size, location in the house, window placement, and so on, it's probably not a huge deal if they're conforming or not.

On the other hand, we've looked at one or two houses that claim to have three conforming bedrooms, when it's blindly obvious that someone just paid a contractor to stick a closet in the corner of a den. In that case, my real estate agent was like, "Hello, this is clearly not a bedroom, when I pull comps [recent comparable sales to help determine an appropriate offer price], I'm going to pull two-bedroom houses in this neighborhood because this is a two-bedroom house."

All of which is to say: don't embark on a potentially costly renovation, or even a cheap renovation that will make the rooms look worse, unless you have it from someone who knows the market that it will indeed increase the value.
posted by iminurmefi at 4:04 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Flood is correct about renovations and grandfathering in of certain aspects of the structure/property. But if you ever sell your home, the number of bedrooms will be defined according to my above notes, not on whether or not the room was originally intended as a bedroom.

Real estate guidelines and building codes are two entirely different things. As iminurmefi pointed out, a den could be defined as a bedroom if it meets the code, but a den with a closet thrown in does not a bedroom make.
posted by Specklet at 4:10 PM on February 29, 2012

The closet thing is an urban legend around here (it's also not true that Virginia universities can't have sororities because of an old prostitution law, by the way). The key is the part about having at least two different means of egress, which is why so many apartments around here advertise as "one bedroom + den."
posted by MrMoonPie at 4:25 PM on February 29, 2012

The closet thing is something real estate people use but the law says nothing about it. I even had a real estate lawyer tell me the closet rule. She was wrong, and we got another lawyer.

Check your town or state's zoning bylaws. At least in my town, a bedroom was a private room (You can't, for example, have to walk through one bedroom in order to get to another.) with its own entrance of a certain size. I think it may have also needed a window, as an emergency exit. There may have been one or two other requirements. Nothing about a closet.
posted by bondcliff at 4:37 PM on February 29, 2012

Part of the confusion is that there are a few different people to whom you may need to "prove" something is a bedroom.

1. Building inspector - but this is only for new construction or permitting renovations, so it doesn't sound like it applies at all in your case

2. Renters - may or may not be minimum standards about what you can advertise or lease as a bedroom, I have no idea but it sounds like it's not an issue for you either

3. Future buyers / real estate agents - whether they care if a bedroom has a closet probably depends on what other houses in your price range or neighborhood have; lack of a closet may be a dealbreaker for some buyers but it might not ultimately affect the price of the house that much

4. Appraisers - if you sell the house and the buyers have to finance it (that's like 99% of buyers) then the bank will require an appraisal, and the appraiser will look at--among other factors--the value of similar homes with the same square footage and number of bedrooms/bathrooms. If the appraiser insists that a closet-less room is worth less, or is not in fact a bedroom for the purposes of establishing similar house values, you could have a problem.

I think you're only concerned about #3 and #4, and I think both of those questions can be answered by someone who sells houses for a living. Even if you're not necessarily selling now, I'd guess that real estate agents might be willing to meet with you and look at your house to give some advice in the hope of becoming your agent a few years down the road when you do sell.
posted by iminurmefi at 4:47 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

The requirement about closets was something our landlord told us. It very well could have been county- or town-specific, especially given that it was in a college town and rental property listings were rampant.
posted by thewestinggame at 5:35 PM on February 29, 2012

Thank you everyone! This explains why I couldn't find a law or some nationally recommended regulation, but not why so many real estate agents and a few appraisers I (or my friends) have dealt with in the past have been so wrong.

The walk-thru issue mentioned above isn't one I really considered from a real estate angle before; this house doesn't really have hallways either.
posted by julen at 4:23 AM on March 1, 2012

I'm a property manager in Syracuse NY and the Section 8 inspector told me I had to supply a wardrobe cabinet for a bedroom that didn't have a closet in order to pass the inspection. That is the only time I've been required to do that.
posted by Melsky at 8:31 AM on March 1, 2012

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