Illegal extra bedrooms?

8 Replies

Was looking at a property recently, and spoke with the seller's agent. He said some of the tenants of the duplex are sleeping in the basement, which has no egress windows. No egress at all, except the stairs to the main floor. 

I'd be concerned for their safety to start out with. It does raise a question though - what are the legal requirements of the landlord? If I purchased the property and knew, or had a reasonable suspicion, that tenants were living in the basement could I be liable?

I'll say the obvious but probably a lawyer is going to give you the definitive answer.

Off the top of my head though, one way to reduce any liability you may have is to ensure the lease specifies the (correct) number of bedrooms and the maximum occupancy. E.g. in some areas that means 2 people per bedroom max. Say its a 2-bedroom place and there are four occupants in the unit the renters would be within the terms of the lease. Then there's not much you can do if someone wants to camp out in the basement or sleeps on the sofa in the tv room. If your lease had this limitation in it, then you would simply police the number of people living in the house.

If you were to purchase this house with tenants in place and there existing lease does not have this sort of clause in it, then I'm not sure what you could do if there were 6 people living in a 2-bedroom place (using the above example).

get an umbrella policy. You will never be 110% safe but you should be as reasonable as possible. 

Due diligence. Never buy a property without checking that the # beds/baths matches that on record (ie, dept buildings records, city/county asessor's/tax record details for the property, and/or certificate of occupancy).

many city/county departments of building records will even display the active C of O on their website which typically spells out the # of stories, bedrooms, bathroom, and if a basement present, if it is full or partial, finished or unfinished. any work done would update the C of O (ie, a garage later added would show some sort of addendum file to the C of O).

again, if occupants are 'using the basement for sleeping' that a big red flag for prospect buyers to now do their homework and find out if that's a violation/liability or not based on official records. 

These sound like fire code violations to me. Look up the codes in your municipality. Due diligence was mentioned and I second that. Your question was are you liable. Liable for what?  If there is a fire in the stairwell and people die, I wouldn't want to be the owner of the property. An umbrella policy won't cover negligence.

@David S.

My parents inplanted a conciousness in me that eats me up if I act out of the lines.  Do what you think is right.  Create a good environment.


What would it take to put in an egress window and an closet to make the room pass code as a bedroom? It may not be as much as you would think. I know a rehabber who often does this.

@Frank Romine I considered it, but the numbers won't work. The cost to add the egress windows would make it uneconomical for me to purchase. 

Originally posted by @David S. :

@Frank Romine I considered it, but the numbers won't work. The cost to add the egress windows would make it uneconomical for me to purchase. 

@David S. - Would the purchase make sense if you closed the basement off and prevented any tenant access (i.e. locking the door)?

If it would - consider that option.  No one says you have to give them access.  You could rent it out as storage space - or complimentary storage space for each tenant in the building.  

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