From the Forum – Can owner live in a basement and rent out rest of house?

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Can owner live in a basement and rent out rest of house?:

“Is it possible in DC for an owner to live in basement that is less than 7 ft in height and rent out rest of house where there is a connecting stair to basement? Would it be possible to get BBL for rest of house? What do the laws say about owner’s right to use property for self? I have been researching but am confused. Thanks”

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15 Comment

  • Sorry. You can’t live there. It’s gunna be a Subway. The smell of Subway bread would eventually drive you insane.

    • Since taking this photo, the lower right hand corner of that mural has been covered in white paint and then graffiti. Hope this serves as a model if someone wants to restore it. Thanks for posting the pic :^) That woman is still waiting for her ride no matter how many times I step away from the picture.

    • LOL. whut.

  • I doubt it? Generally, the inspector checks out the whole house. If the basement height is too low, it’s possible (???) that the inspector overlooks it if you’ll be living there yourself, but I don’t think it’s by any means guaranteed.

  • You could just have it set up as a roommate situation, i.e. you’re not renting out the top portion of the house as a separate unit. You don’t need a BBL for that, if I recall correctly. I think the trick would be trying to show that there are shared amenities (laundry, backyard, kitchen, etc.)

    • This could work (I think–though a poster a week or two seemed to think that this roommate arrangement would actually require a BBL, so I don’t know if the regs have changed)–but only if the basement is connected to the rest of the house, rather than having a separate entrance.

      • We discussed this a while back too. I believe if there were separate customary amenities: bathroom, kitchen, etc then they’re considered separate units. I don’t know if sharing things like laundry or a backyard (more optional amenities) would qualify. I think if you can lock the person out of the basement then it’s separate unit since you can restrict access to the space. Not sure if that changes the requirement even if you chose to leave the doors open.

        • I believe a legal, separate basement unit must have the internal stairs removed, IIRC.
          Regardless, there’s no way for the OP to be fully legal without incurring significant renovation costs. The “least illegal” option is to set it up as a shared house and treat it as a roommate situation. Though it’s unclear if that will pass muster with RACD if an eviction comes up or with his insurer if there’s a catastrophe.
          Tl;dr – tread carefully and pick a very credible roommate, OP. You probably won’t be legal, but that doesn’t seem to stop most people in DC from renting out their basement or the upper portion of the house.

          • Nope. I know someone renting a basement out in Brookland, and they have stairs and all necessary permits and licenses. Their doors are the double locking variety.
            That would be very extreme for something you may want to stop doing someday.

    • You do need a BBL for that.

  • A new structure was built on my block several years ago. The owner tried to sneak in 4 units by having separate basement and top floor units. He was actually required to fill in the steps going to the basement from the front. But besides the entry to two above grade 3 level units there is an entry to the basement from the alley. Looks like an illegal and very dangerous living situation If it is a separate unit with only one means of egress. I’ve seen real estate agents showing the basement separately. Is this an illegal situation?

  • Hi there OP. I’m a licensed RE agent here in DC and my wife and I have been doing it at 11th and Park Road for over 4 years. Living in the basement has allowed my wife and I to leverage other investments given our debt to income stays in check by having the mortgage covered. We have a BBL for renting our house and our ceilings are 6’11”. The main requirement is that you have internal access otherwise you’d need a two family BBL which would mean 7′ ceilings, separate electrical panel etc… would be required. If you have any other questions email me at [email protected] PoP, if I’m not supposed to put my email address up, apologies – I never post so I’m not sure about rules!

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