Why don't people think my bedroom is real?
January 31, 2017 9:27 PM   Subscribe

I live in a 1BR unit in a large corporate apartment complex. The bedroom is distinct and separate, this is not a studio or loft. The bedroom does not have an exterior window--just a glass brick "window" to the interior hallway. When I mention this to people, the inevitable response is something along the lines of "That's not allowed!" or "Isn't that against code?" or "They can't legally call it a bedroom!" What on earth are they talking about? I'm asking because I want to understand and be able to respond, not because I care whether or not it's up to code or "legally" a bedroom.
posted by rhiannonstone to Law & Government (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
They are talking about the fact that in most places a bedroom must have a window to the outside to legally be called a bedroom. I used to live in such a bedroom and we had to drag my shit to a different room when the manager came around.
posted by Cosine at 9:29 PM on January 31, 2017 [12 favorites]

In most cases/places, a bedroom requires 2 ways to get out of it to be a legal bedroom. That's usually the door to the room plus an openable window that can fit a person. If your room doesn't have an openable window, it is likely not a legal bedroom.
posted by brainmouse at 9:30 PM on January 31, 2017 [47 favorites]

I believe it's about having a method of escape from the bedroom in a fire or other emergency where the door would be blocked. A previous apartment of mine had a second room that was definitely big enough for a bedroom, but it didn't have windows a person could fit through so couldn't be counted as one on the lease.
posted by augustimagination at 9:31 PM on January 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

I should have included in my question: can anyone point to any actual current code or regulation that requires this? I've heard it so often and it's always so vague that I'm inclined to consider it akin to "common wisdom" or an old wives' tale, like not swimming within half an hour of eating.
posted by rhiannonstone at 9:37 PM on January 31, 2017

People are telling you this because they think you're getting ripped off, that your landlord is charging you 1B prices for what is legally and fire-safety-code wise, a studio with a big-ass closet.
posted by Diablevert at 9:38 PM on January 31, 2017 [87 favorites]

Yes, this. Bedrooms without windows are called closets.
posted by tillsbury at 9:40 PM on January 31, 2017 [15 favorites]

This publication from the City of Portland about windows includes text about legal egress (which is the key word to google for) for bedrooms:
Emergency egress windows
Basements and all sleeping rooms must have at least one opening window or exterior door for escape or rescue, also referred to as egress, in case of a fire or other emergency.
It's not the actual code, but it's an official city publication, at least. That specific text is for one- and two-family dwellings, and regulations for apartment buildings are almost likely different.
posted by duien at 9:41 PM on January 31, 2017 [4 favorites]

Usually, state/municipal building codes have requirements that make bedrooms less fire-prone and safer in case a fire does break out. Bedrooms are usually required have two means of egress -- (1) the door you use to get inside, plus (2) another egress (usually a window large enough to climb out of, but it could also be a door to the exterior of the house). That's so that if one exit was blocked in a fire, you could still escape. Here's a summary of bedroom legal requirements; you can probably find the building codes for your municipality by googling. You could also call up your local building department, tell them you're a tenant and you'd rather not give your name, and ask them whether this is a requirement where you live. If you told me that fact about the glass block "window," I'd probably assume your landlord was doing something illegal (and dangerous) by renting that room to you as a bedroom, and I'd express surprise much as those other people did.
posted by ourobouros at 9:42 PM on January 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

For the Oakland building code (source):

Sleeping rooms below the fourth story shall have at least one operable window or exterior door approved for emergency escape or rescue. The units shall be operable from the inside to provide a full clear opening without the used of separate tools.
posted by ktkt at 9:44 PM on January 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Two minutes of googling informed me that the International Residential Code, used as a basis for most building codes across the U.S., require all bedrooms to have an exterior window or door.
posted by Automocar at 9:44 PM on January 31, 2017 [8 favorites]

Also, people are probably telling you this because living in your apartment would make them extremely nervous. Your bedroom is a firetrap.
posted by Automocar at 9:46 PM on January 31, 2017 [43 favorites]

You seem to be in Denver. I don't know how high up you are, but here's reference to Denver-specific rules (with a number you can use to look up the full building code) for buildings with four floors or less.

In addition to people not wanting you to get ripped off, there are very likely rules about liability and insurance that are applicable to classifying something as a bedroom when it legally can't be called one.
posted by sardonyx at 9:49 PM on January 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

Here's the International Fire Code. Search the page for "Section 1030 Emergency Escape and Rescue".
posted by ourobouros at 9:51 PM on January 31, 2017

IIrc, when we added a second story to the bungalow in Chicago, the size of the bedroom windows was determined by the size of the room. The first set of windows, which were easily big enough for a adult to use as an exit, had to be returned/replaced because they were too small. The bedrooms were no bigger than 10'x12'.
posted by she's not there at 9:59 PM on January 31, 2017

Thanks all! I appreciate the resources and perspective.
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:11 PM on January 31, 2017

Egress windows are supposed to be big enough for a fire fighter in gear to fit through, that's why they are so big.
posted by fshgrl at 11:49 PM on January 31, 2017 [16 favorites]


The building codes are actually much stricter for commercial residential (apartment buildings) than for non-commercial residential (like a house you own and don't rent) because of liability and danger to renters, danger to emergency service workers. It's illegal every place I know of in the US to have a bedroom without a window - ask your local fire dept folks if you don't want to call or wait on line at Planning or Building Dept.

This is not a wives tale, as evidenced by the recent Ghost Ship Fire in Oakland. If you look into fire safety history you will find lots of tragedies like that which changed code/law for the better.

I don't know what you should do in your current situation. If you worried at all for your safety, you can have your fire department folks stop over and look at the layout of your apartment - this literally in their job description and they are happy to do it. Then you'll know if you are safe.

Do you have renters insurance? It's like $15 a month or so. If the fire department red tags your apartment or building (not likely) you can use it for a hotel until you find a new place. If the glass brick wall is not floor to ceiling, likely you are fine from a legal standpoint...

That said, you might be paying 1bd rm prices for a large studio or loft. You might be able to use the law to renegotiate your rent. Although the folks renting to you should have known the law, maybe it was an honest mistake? Once you gather documentation you can sort it out with them. If it is illegal, the fire department will tell you what structural modifications will make it Safe and Legal. They will also give you a number for Code Enforcement.

Really. Just get qualified eyeballs on your set-up. Don't you want to know if your sleeping arrangements are to code? Dealing with your landlord about money is secondary to making sure you are OK to sleep there.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 6:27 AM on February 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

New York City also requires two means of egress from every bedroom.

People probably also think you're being ripped off. It shouldn't be happening in a small-time private rental operation; for it to be happening in a big commercial complex is pretty scandalous.
posted by praemunire at 6:46 AM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Second praemunire...this isn't an obscure part of building codes that commercial apartment complex operators should know. It sounds like they used glass blocks as security mechanism if that window faces a public hallway so you can understand the motivation for using glass blocks vs. an openable window. It still doesn't make it right.
posted by mmascolino at 6:55 AM on February 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Denver Development Services has always got a fire department representative available to talk with, and if you'd like moral support or directions I'm in there pretty frequently myself. They normally only review pre-construction stuff there, but I have definitely overheard some "wait, what?" conversations about existing buildings.

It might be simpler to contact DFD directly. You could go with your local station or the general fire prevention number; either should be able to listen and offer some advice.

That said, you might be paying 1bd rm prices for a large studio or loft.

Damn near everybody in Denver renting a studio or loft is doing that these days, so it's certainly understandable. The obscene rent increases are slowing, but they haven't stopped yet. Good luck with whatever you decide to do, and at minimum, check your renter's insurance coverage and make sure your smoke and CO alarms and fire extinguisher are all working. (That stuff's important no matter what kind of windows your apartment has.)
posted by asperity at 10:19 AM on February 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

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