Boy howdy, if I haven’t had this question more times than I could count over the years! The main issue seems to stem from a REALTORS® desire to promote the property to its highest value, mingled with the lack of clear guidelines to be found in the real estate community. In this article let's discuss the top things you should consider when you are counting bedrooms in your new listing.
The Law – Egress requirements
The National building code, the Alberta building code, and the Alberta Health Minimum Housing and Health Standards all line up regarding the ‘egress’ or escape requirements of a bedroom. As far as legislation goes this seems to be the only codified bedroom requirement enshrined in law. Here are the specific regulations detailed in those documents summarized at the writing of this article:
Emergency Egress for bedrooms:
- Must have at least one outside window which can be opened from the inside without the use of tools or special knowledge.
- This window must provide unobstructed openings with areas not less than 0.35 m2 (3.8ft2 ), with no dimension less than 380 mm (15 in.)
- If the window referred to above is provided with security bars, the security bars must be installed so they can be opened from the inside without the use of any tools or special knowledge.
- Exceptions to the above would be:
- Where a bedroom door provides access directly to the exterior;
- or the building and suite have an approved fire suppression (sprinkler) system
It is a good rule of thumb for the sake of fire safety to ensure that bedrooms have 2 points of exit in case of emergency and that an occupant can reach the window if needed. Think about a 9 ft basement with a large enough window for egress but a child occupies that room… they need a way to get to the properly sized window! Now we have all the legal stuff out of the way, let's consider some additional criteria that should be considered when listing a property for sale on the MLS® system.
Minimum Square Footage
As would be assumed in the name, a BED room should be understood to be able to fit a bed, don’t you agree? Well in most cases this would be a 70-80 sqft room at minimum with no dimension less than 7ft to be adequately sized for a bed and some space to walk around it. There could be reasonable exceptions to this but it's a rule of thumb
Considering it's called a bedROOM, the name itself would imply that the bed is in a ‘room’ which has a basic understanding to be somewhat or entirely enclosed. Must it have a door? Maybe. How about a bead curtain? Sure! There are no specifics around a closeable door but the person sleeping there may feel differently.
It may not have occurred to anyone outside of a boarding house, but height may be a consideration as well. The Residential Measurement Standard in Alberta, principal 7 states that saleable footage of a room requires a height of 5ft minimum with at least 7ft of height somewhere in that same room. There is no good reason not to apply that same principle generally to your thoughts on bedrooms as well as something to consider.
Heating… Alberta winters come every year
Similar to the Minimum height consideration, the Residential Measurement Standard in Alberta, principal 6 states that to be included in saleable footage the property space must be weatherproof and suitable for year-round use (ie heated for winter). Notwithstanding that some basements are pretty drafty and cold, this could be another consideration when determining if a room could be used as a bedroom.
Contrary to popular belief, a closet has not always been a standard feature in home construction. Most pre-war homes did not have closets built into the walls and the inhabitants still survived such a hardship. Joking aside, a bedroom does not necessarily have to have a closet to be a bedroom, but perhaps sufficient space for a cabinet, dresser, or clothes rack will make life a little more organized for the room's potential inhabitant.
Now for the Elephant in the room...or bedroom as the case may be. There are countless homes that were built with tiny windows in the basement, and even some historic homes without proper egress in upper floor rooms, so what to do about those? The Real Estate Act rules 42(b) state you cannot participate in unlawful activities, and as the logic goes if a bedroom doesn’t meet basic legal egress requirements then it is not a legal bedroom. Following the bouncing ball takes you to The Real Estate Insurance Exchange (REIX) who states that coverage will not extend to members who list properties with a bedroom that does not meet legal egress criteria. In that case, it becomes very crucial that a REALTOR® disclose to the public in remarks and on a purchase contract that “rooms in the basement currently used as bedrooms do not meet current legal egress requirements”
After discussion with several boards in Alberta, there are no hard and fast rules surrounding your choice to designate a room as a bedroom in your new listing. However, your fellow REALTORS®, your broker, your association, and potential buyers would appreciate it immensely if you just took a few minutes to think through a few of these considerations to avoid conflict and potential legal liability.
Provincial Practice Advisor
Bryan has many years of experience in the real estate industry including over 10 years as a former broker in the Edmonton Region.