From the Forum – DCRA and Basement Apartments, again

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DCRA and Basement Apartments, again

“I am in the middle of a Pro-Active Building Inspection on a basement apartment for which I have had a C of O for 24 years and a current Basic Business License. The Inspector claims that my two bedrooms are illegal because there is not sufficient fire egress, yet what he cites is the DCMR 14 (which just deals with maintenance – keeping the egress clear) and the International Residential Code (for which he gave me copies of the rules). But the IRC, as I understand it, deals with new buildings and/or buildings with two units or less. My building has of C of O for three units (they don’t do Pro-Active Inspections on two-unit buildings). This is covered by the International Construction Code and its Fire Code and Existing Building Codes, as modified by DC. The Fire Code section on Egress says that bedrooms in basement apartments meed the requirements if they have doors that open directly onto an Exit Path, which mine do.

Now the Codes are very convoluted, with numerous revisions and cross-references (and some of the cross-references have not been updated to reflect revisions). Both the Inspector and his boss told me to find a contractor who knows the rules and let him get the permits, letting the permit inspectors sort it out. I talked to an old friend who had been a building inspector for a long time (now retired) and he said, “you can always appeal”.

My contractor has had a designer and permit expeditor who is supposed to sort this out, but they are not returning phone calls from him or me.

Has anybody had similar experience with basement egress issues or can recommend a knowledgeable expert?”

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6 Comment

  • Where is your property located?

  • how difficult would it be to establish direct outwards egress (i.e. replacing the bars on a window). Might end up being easier.

  • Unfortunately, there is pretty much no way to get clear answers from DCRA regarding regulations. They simply don’t know. You just have to hope for an inspector who doesn’t want to fill his schedule with easy hours spent hassling you. When I built my basement apt. in 2006 they passed me for a bedroom with a door that opened right onto the rear entrance. After they lost all the paperwork and I had to re-apply for a C of O last year, they said that didn’t count and I needed escape bars on the window.

    If you can just do the escape bars to “solve” it, that’s the way to go.

  • Amazing how residents/politicians/media/city leaders complain about the lack of affordable housing in DC yet the city (DCRA) make it so difficult for people to bring apartments into compliance.

    I understand there is a need for safe housing for all – but lets have inspectors who know the code and are able to properly advise a landlord on what they need to do to comply and get the unit on the market. The delays and unnecessary added costs just drive up the rent.

  • That’s the problem with DCRA inspectors. They just simply don’t know.

  • Can it be an egress window, instead of an egress door? We are redoing our basement to get CofO and we are going to put an egress window in the bedroom rather than a door. It has to be of a specific height and size according to the national fire code, but we’d rather put a window than a door to our back patio.

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