How Is This A Bedroom In Massachusetts?

By: Dave Lenhardt

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Typically, one would think that a room needs a closet in order to be counted as a bedroom, right? If you ask a handful of professionals, such as: realtors, homeowners, appraisers, inspectors, ect. “What defines a bedroom?”  You will most likely get at least 5 different answers. With a housing stock as old as it is in the Greater Boston area, you are bound to run into a tiny room without a closet being labeled as a ‘bedroom’. You may think to yourself, “Are they serious?”.

Before splainin’ to them how the “bedroom rules” work, read on…

There are a few different sets of regulations that govern bedrooms. First and foremost, you have the basic building code:

-At the time of this writing, Massachusetts uses the IRCC 2015 with some additional requirements tacked on.

-Second, there’s Massachusetts’ sanitary code (105 CMR 410).

-Next, Title 5 (310 CMR 15.00) plays a part.

-Finally, appraisers have their own guidelines when determining how much value to assign to one bedroom over another.

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Massachusetts State Building Code

The building code only requires a few features for a bedroom:

-An emergency escape and rescue opening (that meets certain requirements)

-A smoke and/or carbon monoxide alarm in and outside (that meets certain requirements)

-A permanent heating facility capable of maintaining a certain room temperature

-A minimum floor area of at least 70 sqft, with no dimension less than 7 ft. This doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be 7’ x 10’ either; for example, 8.4’ x 8.4’ also meets the requirement.

-50% or more of the ceiling for that floor area must be 7’ or higher, and none of the required 70 sqft can have a sloped ceiling less than 5’ high.

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Of course, these items do not apply if the bedroom was built before those items they were part of the Massachusetts Building Code.

Massachusetts Sanitary Code

The MA sanitary code adds that no room can be considered habitable if more than half of its floor-to-ceiling height is below the average grade of the adjoining ground AND subject to chronic dampness.

Massachusetts Title 5 (Septic Systems)

Because the rules are designed to err on the side of a slightly larger-than-required septic system, MA’s Title 5 can be misleading when it comes to bedrooms. For instance, every single-family home must have a system designed for at least 3 bedrooms, whether or not a particular home has that many. If an owner isn’t aware of that caveat, they may incorrectly assume that the tiny “bonus room” in their two-bedroom house is actually a third bedroom after discovering that a new three-bedroom septic system was required to be installed.

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Appraiser’s Technique

In case you haven’t noticed, nothing even resembling a closet was mentioned by any of those, which leads us to appraisers. An appraiser’s job is not to simply add a set value anytime a house has one more bedroom than a comparable property. Many factors are taken into account, for example, if every other bedroom in the house has a closet, the location of a particular room in the house, its shape (i.e. L-shaped bedrooms might be valued less than rectangular ones). This may also be confusing, specifically, because everyone will have a different view of how the room was intended to be used. I have also heard an appraiser base his decisions off of guidance from the not-mandatory-in-MA International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC 2015). The Maintenance code seems to be the only place where it says that a bedroom can not be only accessible through another bedroom. While this seems to be a very reasonable provision, it’s not technically mandatory in Massachusetts.

Think of it this way: If a hypothetical large house was custom-built to have a 70 sqft heated pantry off the kitchen, and it happens to have an appropriately-sized window; that room is going to add a value closer to that of pantries in comparable houses, rather than the bump in value that a fifth bedroom would bring. By assigning that value, the appraiser is not saying that the room does not meet the basic requirements for a bedroom. Rather, the appraiser is saying that this particular room is basically the worst bedroom he, or she, has ever seen. Plus, it may also deserve the same value as a pantry, since that is what it was intended to be.

…Although I do think the appraiser should have taken into account the awesomeness factor that could be GAINED by sleeping in a bedroom pantry, and not having to walk across the house for some goldfish crackers in the middle of the night. Just sayin’.

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Do you have questions about home buying or selling?  Dave Lenhardt can be reached at:

Dave@KadilakRealtyGroup.com

Kadilak Realty Group @
Keller Williams Boston Northwest

Call or text: 781-557-8673

Facebook: LenhardtHomes
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