As anyone who’s tried to find rental apartments in NYC knows, landlords tend to stretch the truth when it comes to room descriptions. Take for instance this Brooklyn beauty stairway room (featuring “a special ergonomic space for your mattress with a gentle 45-degree angled slope”). Even when the descriptions aren’t quite that outlandish, it’s still common to come across terms like an alcove, flex/convertible, or junior to describe the almost (but not quite) bedroom.

It’s just as frustrating for buyers who have to figure out the livability of the space and also its legal status for purchase, renovation, and resale purposes. Here we explain what constitutes a legal bedroom in NYC, exceptions and what buyers and renovators need to consider.

What constitutes a bedroom in NYC?

The New York Administrative Code, with its various caveats and upgrades, is notorious for being difficult to understand. As such, this is a tricky question to answer. The exact provisions can be found spread out among the Housing Maintenance Code, the Multiple Dwelling Law, the Residential Code, and the Building code. Summarized together, the following requirements must be met for any living space to be declared a legal bedroom:

  • Be a minimum of 80 square feet total.
  • Have a minimum width of 8 feet in any direction.
  • Have a minimum ceiling height of 8 feet.
  • At least one window with a minimum of 12 square feet. A window that opens out onto a balcony also counts. The window must open onto a public area such as a park, yard, plaza or street.
  • Two means of egress (entrance and exit), for instance, via a door to a window. You must be able to open both from the inside.
  • Access to the bedroom has to be direct; there cannot be a need to pass from one bedroom to reach another.

Are there any exceptions to the rules?

There are a few exceptions to the rules. Also note, a bedroom does not need to have a closet to be legal, something of a popular opinion. Exceptions include:

  • If there are three or more bedrooms in the apartment, one half of them may have a minimum dimension of 7 feet.
  • If the bedroom is located in the basement or on the top floor, the minimum ceiling height is 7 feet.
  • If the bedroom has a sloped ceiling, there must be a minimum ceiling height of 7 feet over 1/3rd of the room.

Do you plan to add or remove a bedroom?

If you’re purchasing an apartment with the intention of adding or removing a bedroom, it would be wise first to check if this is a possibility. Consult the building’s board along with the architect to see if whether there would be any objections or issues. Before any renovations can begin, you’ll need to secure the permission of both the Department of Buildings (DOB) and the condo/co-op board. This often takes months, so make sure to account for it when coming up with your timeline. Take all the following points into consideration.

  • If you wish to get creative with how you use the space, keep in mind that while the city’s square footage requirements may appear generous, the egress requirements are in place for safety against the very real threat of fire.
  • If you add or remove bedrooms with the permission of the DOB, you may have to undo the changes if this comes during the home inspection.
  • If you’re making the changes for the sake of personal needs, keep in mind that any reductions in the number of bedrooms can negatively impact the resale price.

The question of the legality of a bedroom is incidental if you can make it work for you. But by knowing the exact legal definition, you can conduct better negotiations when making an offer and know how to price the property if you decide in future to sell.

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