Dear PoPville – Do Apartment Building Windows Have to be able to Open?

Photo by PoPville flickr user thisisbossi

“Dear PoPville,

Does DC have any laws for rental properties regarding how much windows have to open and air flow? I’ve recently moved into a studio that I love but I only have one opening window and it only opens a sliver. I barely get any moving air or temperature change.”

Interesting question – anyone know if there are any regulations for windows opening?

22 Comment

  • I believe fire code says that there must be at least one window in the bedroom and it must open so you can escape if needed. Otherwise it is not a legal bedroom…

    • This is unlikely to be true. Look at the skating rink in AdMo. Some of those apartments have no windows at all, only immovable skylights.

      • People live in apartments with no windows at all?! And I thought some basement apartments were bad!!

      • That may be true, but that means that they’re not legally allowed to call them bedrooms.
        As for the window only opening a sliver, while it strikes me as unsafe, that’s how it was when I lived in the dorms at AU. The windows purposely didn’t open wide enough for a person to fall/jump out of the window.

      • There’s a skating rink in Adams Morgan with apartments in it?!?

    • I don’t think I have been in a taller condo/apartment building (more than 4-5 stories) where the windows open enough for one to escape in case of a fire. I live on the 9th story of a building and my bedroom window only opens about 3 inches. If the windows don’t open enough to escape, does there need to be a balcony? Interested to know more…

      • Haha, yeah I can only imagine trying to roll out the 10 or so inches that my window opens from my 6th floor condo and plummeting down.

  • justinbc

    From IPMC:

    506.1 Each habitable room shall have either natural or mechanical ventilation at least equal to the
    requirements of this section.
    506.2 Natural ventilation shall be provided by an opening directly to the outside, the area of which is at
    least equal to five percent (5%) of the floor area of the room served, except as otherwise provided
    in this section.
    506.3 Rooms opening on enclosed porches and meeting the ventilation requirements of Article 501-01-e
    of the 1941 Building Code, as amended, and rooms ventilated through sunporches and meeting the
    ventilation requirements of § 3-515 of the 1961 Building Code, as amended, shall be deemed to
    have adequate natural ventilation.
    506.4 At least fifty percent (50%) of the required ventilation shall be furnished by an openable window,
    louvres located in the upper fifty percent (50%) of the room, side light, transom, glazed door, or
    door of the horizontally divided (dutch) or vertically divided (french) type.
    506.5 For buildings erected, altered, or converted under permits issued prior to July 1, 1961, mechanical
    ventilation where used shall provide habitable rooms, other than kitchens, with at least three (3)
    air changes per hour.
    506.6 Kitchens shall be provided with at least four (4) air changes per hour.
    506.7 Openable area directly to the outside at least equal to three percent (3%) of the floor area of the
    habitable space served shall be available for use in case of temporary failure of mechanical
    ventilation, except as provided in § 506.8.
    506.8 Interior kitchens which are not daylighted as required by § 502 may be artificially lighted and
    mechanically ventilated if they comply with the following:
    (a) Total floor area shall not exceed one hundred square feet (100 ft.2
    (b) Unobstructed floor space (after the installation of kitchen cabinets and equipment
    including space reserved for the installation of stove and refrigerator) shall not exceed fifty
    square feet (50 ft.2
    (c) Mechanical ventilation shall be centrally controlled and operated and shall provide a
    minimum of eight (8) changes of air per hour through an independent duct system; and
    (d) The interior kitchen is not to be counted as a habitable room.
    506.9 Not more than seventy-five percent (75%) of the air supplied by mechanical ventilation shall be
    recirculated air.
    506.10 The recirculation of air from kitchens, bathrooms, furnace rooms, laundry rooms, and garages is
    506.11 No air supplied to habitable rooms shall be drawn from a plenum or system fed with air returned
    from habitable rooms occupied by other families, common space, or commercial or industrial
    506.12 For buildings erected, altered, or converted under permits issued after June 30, 1961, the
    requirements for mechanical ventilation shall be in accordance with the applicable provisions of
    sections 3-527 through 3-533, inclusive, of the 1961 D.C. Building Code, as amended.

    • Translation: The rules are vague and open to interpretation.

      • When I moved into my previous building (constructed in 2007/2008) they told me that the law (I guess that which justin pasted above) required that windows don’t open all the way in buildings of a certain height so people/kids couldn’t jump/fall out of them. I have no idea if that leasing agent knew what she was talking about, but that’s the line she fed me.

  • SouthWoo10

    This is not really answer to the question stated, but a solution to your window only opening a sliver. Most sliding windows in apartments are blocked by a safety guard so you can not open the window all the way. If you look along the top track of your window you should see some sort of metal blocking your window from sliding completely open (they vary in size and look), but most can be taking off with a phillips screw driver or a star driver (found a most hardware stores). Hope this helps. Mine come off as soon as I move in and go back up after I move out. 🙂

  • This is fairly common. I lived in a building (1500 Mass) where my window only opened about 3 inches, and I had no control over the heat or AC. Side note – how do they fill that building?! I spent every day of 7 months wanting out.

    • i lived in the sixteenhundred on 16th and Q and had the exact same issue! wanted out IMMEDIATELY. too hot in the summer and also they blasted heat in the winter. and there was only one vent. omg i hated that place

    • RE: 1500 Mass. There are outpatients from a hospital/clinic for people who sought treatment.

  • This reminds me… I need to tell my new tenant about how to push in the “backup lock” things on the window that — when they’re sticking out — prevent it from going up more than about 4 inches, even when unlocked.

  • Good point – I’m not sure how these windows that swing open only a sliver are legal. If there’s a fire outstide your front and you need to be rescued via the window, how are you supposed to get out? Can the fire department open these hinged windows from the outside? Seem like a massive fire hazard.

  • I wish my government office building would have windows that would open. It would be easier to control temp instead of having it always full blast heat/ac, or just to enjoy the breeze when it’s nice out. Are they afraid we’ll jump?

  • In a large apartment building bedroom windows aren’t really counted as a means of egress like they are in a single family house or a small 3ish unit conversion where the front door and and the window are the two means of egress. A large building as two sets of fire stairs acting as the two means of egress, I do not know the specifics of the code, and it might be that similar to small residential code the is an area and size requirement for the window so that it could be broken out. Regardless having just witness a rowhouse fire around the corner, when the fire department shows up they don’t spend anytime carefully opening the windows they just break them all out anyway.

  • The simple answer is, no apartment building don’t necessarily require operable windows.

    With respect to safety and bedroom windows, if your building has sprinklers the windows do not need to open. If you have artificial lighting that can provide 107 lux of artificial lighting/SF you don’t even need a window and it still meets International Building Code (2009 or 2012 depending on construction – assuming it’s newer and built at least after about 2006). Ventilation is even trickier. If you have your windowless sprinkled bedroom connected to a living room that has a patio door, you don’t need any additional ventilation in the bedroom if the area of the patio door is 8% of the total floor area and there are louvers on the bedroom door. Add in bathroom and kitchen exhaust and it changes everything. Plus local codes can change these requirements.

    My last apartment had a bedroom without a window and the only ventilation was the heat pump that pulled return air from the living room and sent it around to the rest of the apartment. I could never figure out how they got around not having any natural ventilation in a bedroom. Then I was able to look at the permitting drawings. The second bedroom was labeled “office”.

    It’s really complicated to balance all the requirements, but fire safety, egress, and lighting would allow a windowless bedroom. Otherwise, providing an opening that equals 4% of the bedroom floor area can be legal. This could be a louver, tube, or mechanical system. It would suck, but it would be legal.

    btw, minimum bedrooms size is no dimension less than 7′ and a 7’6″ ceiling… sooo a 49 sf bedroom with a 1’x2′ window could be legal.

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