BlogBuyersElite NewsFeaturedGovernment and LawMarket InformationSellers May 17, 2016

What Legally Defines A Bedroom In Virginia?

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What Is Required For A Bedroom in My Virginia Home?

I’ve been a Realtor for a long time and I recall that even in my licensing class that there was confusion as to what constituted a bedroom. I remember that the common opinion was a room with a window and a closet.  BOOM. Done.  …Yeah, not so much.  Where as the answer is simple, it’s not THAT simple and the customary ideology was wrong.

This type of misunderstanding happens far too often when people are unwilling to look at the actual rules that establish what something is.  The Virginia Statewide Building Code sets the standards for what constitutes …well, everything.  In this case we’re speaking specifically of bedrooms, so I’ll list those standards.

The Summary of Standards

  • Ceiling Height: The ceiling must be at least 7 foot tall (Less than that and we can only sell to Hobbits)
  • Egress: Each bedroom must have a window or door by which an individual can leave. The egress should be at least 5.7 square feet and no more than 44 inches from the ground. And because prison cells are frowned upon in a house, you can’t have grates or bars installed on the windows (my heart goes out to teenagers who are trying to sneak in a friend, because they saw it in an 80s movie that one time).
  • Entrance: The door used as an entrance to a bedroom may not be through another bedroom. It must have a primary entrance from a larger room or hallway. (Sorry, no bedroom mazes as much fun as that may be)
  • Square Footage: The minimum square footage is 70 square feet, with an additional 50 for each additional occupant.  So if you have two people living in a bedroom, then it needs to be 120 square feet (which is still suffocating, unless you’re newly weds).
  • Heating and Air:  The bedroom must have natural ventilation and a heat source tied to the house. (Unlike that person in finance, that you work with who surrounds themselves with 5 portable heaters at thier desk …in July…, you cannot use portable heaters to qualify a bedroom.)

What About A Closet?

Nope. It’s a myth.  You do not have to have a closet.  There is no statewide rule that requires a closet in the bedroom.  This myth is derived from an old FHA standard that was abrogated in the mid to late 1990’s and once required a closet for a bedroom to be counted as such.  I’ve heard of an appraiser who stated that they wouldn’t count it.  That’s fine, it’s easy enough to challenge and now you know that your appraiser hasn’t read a regulatory update in about 25 years.  Appraisers cannot create regulation.  Some appraisers will state that its in the lender’s guidelines. It may very well be, but you should ask to see a copy of that section of the guidelines. Local jurisdictions may have some requirements about bedrooms in their building code.

But The Home Only Perks For A 3 Bedroom House!

Agents would be well advised to disclose what a home’s septic perk for. If the reality is that you do in fact have 5 bedrooms and a 3 bedroom perk, then you should disclose just that.  So, let potential buyers know that the house is overbuilt for the system, but there’s no reason to consider it as fewer bedrooms.  In 2006 this was challenged by a consumer against a Real Estate Agent in the Fredericksburg Region.  The Virginia Real Estate Board found that the agent was not in violation of any rules, because they stated a fact with a disclosure, therefore allowing the Buyer to make a decision on how to proceed.

Remember that in order to be effective a disclosure should be meaningful, timely and in writing.  Let buyers know before they draft an offer, or even see the property what the deal is with the bedrooms and septic perks.  Put it in writing in the agent only section of MLS and also make sure that it’s in the Residential Property Disclosure or some other area of the contract.

It’s important to note that the methodology for the bedrooms is that there is a 2 person occupancy by bedroom and there is reverse engineering as to what a septic system can handle based on occupancy. Consult with an engineer if you’re looking to over-occupy a house.

This is a great rule to use when extended family wants to stay for the holidays.  “Nope mom-in-law, my house can’t handle any more crap. Sorry, it’s only perked for us.”

My Disclaimer

I do wish to be clear in that I am not an authority on this and that any agent or consumer who has questions should use this post as a guideline that I believed to be accurate at the time of writing.  Local zoning departments may set higher or different standards and agents and consumers should also defer to the local offices when they have questions.