I Think I Messed Up...Adding Bedrooms...Not Pulling Permits

12 Replies

I think I messed up....

My attic used to be 2 units back in the day, split between the left side and the right side. There was a fire back in the 80's and it hasn't been finished since...

I decided I wanted to use this space to add bedrooms (instead of making them additional units)...I have gone ahead withmy handyman to finish it up and add the bedrooms. We are only about 35% done.

HOWEVER, I am only zoned a total of 8 bedrooms and this would increase my total to 12 bedrooms. (Adding two bedrooms on each side of the attic).

I did not go through the permit process to do this and I am now starting to regret the decision. Should I just stop all the work right now? I assumed that I could get through this and figure it out at the end.

Please help lol

@Steve DellaPelle - I don't know what the laws are in Haverhill, but in Chicago there are tons of non-conforming units.  The biggest problem with a non-conforming units is that when you go to sell it you won't be able to list those as additional bedrooms.  But as long as you have the property as a buy and hold you can still capitalize on the extra cash flow.

I say finish the job and get some extra income coming in.

*Also it does not really sound like you have a permit issue as much as a zoning issue.  I am sure you could apply for a permit but would get denied when the zoning board reviews it.

Jonathan Klemm

    Permits are always best but you may be able to salvage the project if the additional space doesn't qualify as a bedroom.  In a lot of places that simply means not adding a closet and it is no longer a bedroom.  Always try to follow the laws as best as you can.

    I might look into the difference between repairs and improvements...If you are making repairs to a previously existing structure you may have different (and less) permitting requirements? And if it was 2 units/bedrooms before maybe there is some grandfathering....

    Or pull the permit now and as @Aaron Klatt said maybe you are just adding office or playroom spaces. I think for a bedroom you need both a closet and a window but YMMV. Good luck. 

    And if you are adding wiring, etc. I would definitely go pull a permit before doing that. A phone call to inspectional services for info may be a good idea.  Good luck 

    Jonathan R McLaughlin

      @Jonathan Klemm  My issue is that I will soon need to have a rental inspection done on the apartment before I can list it and rent it. If they see the additions made to the apartment, they might not issue me the permit?

      @Jonathan R McLaughlin Thanks for the response! All 4 units in the building are 2 BR/1 BA right now which is a total of 8 bedrooms. I'm also hesitant to pull permits on the electric and HVAC since I know that I am going about this the wrong way and the bedrooms may not be allowed.

      @Steve DellaPelle Hey Steve! Give me a call, you should be reaching out to your resources in your meet up group! : )

      I'll be scheduling another meet up soon.

      Wanted to chime in... 

      There are several factors that go into the legality of bedrooms. Some of the issues include light & air requirements, minimum head height, minimum room square footage, minimum glazing square footage to name a few. Local zoning requirements and Floor Area Ratio (FAR) may also be an issue. (Based on my architectural experience and the laws/codes in NYC/NYS.)  

      The inability to rent may be one hiccup if the person inspecting is knowledgeable enough. Your biggest problem would be in the sale of the property. If not legal, the attic would be deemed for storage and nothing more.  Hope things work out. 

      What if the 4 units I have, which are zoned for 8 total bedrooms, currently have only 6 bedrooms being used...would this mean that I am more likely able to add the remaining 2 up in the attic? Keep in mind, this attic was once used as bedrooms back in the day...some are in okay condition and some not so much...

      @Steve DellaPelle , I do not know the specific building codes in MA, however here in NY, zoning is generally based on each floor when it comes to houses and bedrooms. Therefore, in your case it depends what the property's attic was originally zoned for. If you have the Certificate of Occupancy (or equivalent) which states what your local building department has it classified for, then it should be clear what the attic/top floor can be used for bedrooms. It will literally state how many bedrooms for each floor. 

      Being an architect, it always rubs me the wrong way when, while I was shopping for homes for my family, a realtor would say it's 4 bdrms. HOWEVER, what a realtor says means nothing for the legality of a bedroom. Sometimes i can walk into a bedroom and know it's not legal and the homeowner added it on, split a big room into two or something to increase space. Nevertheless, I digress.. 

      Stop the work now and apply for permits. Better safe then sorry. Be a shame if you are forced to tear them out after completed or not able to sell or rent the place.

      You will regret not pulling permits if a neighbour reports you or there is a fire and your in villation of your insurance coverage.

      I would worry more about egress from the bedroom than anything else in an attic if you are renting as a room.

      If there is a fire below will they be able to get out through a window or other exit without having to go downstairs and get to safety. That’s where the liability and law suits would cause major issues.

      Life safety is everything to inspectors and lawsuits. Everything else to be worried about would just be a slap on the wrist, a fine, and/or wasted money on finishing it.

      Thanks for all of the replies! I have halted work in the attic for the time being and trying to figure out how to go about this legally.

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