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“Besides being an absurd amount of money for a windowless bedroom, aren’t these technically illegal?”

by Prince Of Petworth February 23, 2016 at 2:25 pm 94 Comments

8th and Florida Ave, NW

“Dear PoPville,

I was looking at floor plans for The Shay and noticed so many of the layouts don’t have any windows in the bedrooms. (Including the corner apartment with 2 full balconies for a whopping $3,116 a month). Besides being an absurd amount of money for a windowless bedroom, aren’t these technically illegal? My understanding from living in NYC that in order to qualify as a bedroom, it must have two means for egress. NYC at least had the decently to paint things as a “home office” to appease the housing department. Wondering how the law shakes out in DC.”

  • anon

    $3,100 and no window in the bedroom; I am buying a beater and moving to Falls Church.

  • textdoc

    I don’t think they can call it a “bedroom” if the bedroom area has no windows. They can, however, call it a junior one-bedroom or a studio.

    • Anonymous

      They can all it whatever they want. They could call it a three bedroom if they wanted to.

      • textdoc

        There are some standards… even among real estate agents.

      • JS

        It’s like that Mitch Hedberg joke: “I just bought a two bedroom house, but I think I get to decide how many bedrooms there are. This bedroom has an oven in it!”

  • Anonymous

    What do you mean by “illegal”? Can they lease them as they are laid out? Yes. Can they tell you they’re 1BRs even though they don’t have a window? Yes. If it were a condo, would it be classified as a bedroom for tax assessment purposes? No.

    • Marty

      perhaps they mean it is compliant with housing code?

  • rob

    damn son..over 4x my rent.

    • ***

      Wait. Your rent is only $779/month for a 1 bedroom apartment in the district? How and where?

  • J Street

    That is a crazy amount of money for a 600 SF apartment. Are these actually being leased?

    • anonymous

      Unit S3-E is ridiculous. How ould you make that into a studio? I guess you can sleep on the balcony…

      • ***

        Yes – that is my favorite one as well! You get a bed or a sofa, not both. It’s more functional as a small office than a living unit.

      • ***

        S7-E actually demonstrates that eliminating the balcony in favor or more interior space actually makes the unit somewhat livable. Granted it’s almost $300 more a month, so it’s either sleep on the balcony and have grocery money OR have a living room and a bed but not eat.

  • Theo

    Technically, yes you can have a bedroom without a window, 77 H apartments do not have windows in the sleeping areas, There is a Marriott in Florida that had “no-View” Guestrooms for years. The real requirement for a window in a sleeping area was for fresh air circulation. Now with advanced HVAC systems that will pull fresh- or outdoor- air and circulate that air and inoperable windows, you don’t have this requirement.

    Background: Construction.

    • Luman

      Actually, that may be one of the reasons, but the primary one is safety so that in a fire there are at least two ways to get out. I have a background in quality management and safety in residential construction, and the IRC (International Residential Code) says essentially that to be considered a bedroom, a room must have at least two forms of egress as well as, believe it or not, a closet.

      • Jo

        Lol. Then there are no bedrooms in my three bedroom house because there were no closets. The person who tried to talk me down when I was renting it out on the argument that “the bedrooms aren’t really bedrooms” makes a little more sense now, I guess.

      • dunning-kruger

        I’m pretty sure you can have a single egress (the door) bedroom if it has sprinklers.
        100% right about safety. Air may be the main concern in commercial where there are already sprinklers, in residential there needs to be a window for a fireman to come in.

    • Anon

      77H one of the worst buildings in the city…you can hear your neighbor change clothes

  • Jon M.

    According to our realtor when we sold our condo last year, DC doesn’t have a legal definition of a bedroom. You can call something a bedroom in your listing. As long as you’re disclosing what it actually is and not deceiving people (triggering false-advertising or fraud issues), you can label a room whatever you want.

    • anon


      I was used to watching HGTV, where I learned that NYC bedrooms must have a closet and window, so I was shocked when I found out that didn’t apply in DC.

  • Pixie

    I thought bedrooms needed two points of egress. So you can have a bedroom door and a window, or a bedroom door and an exit through an attached bathroom that has two doors. I toured apartments in some new buildings in the Navy Yard, many of them windowless bedrooms that were attached to a bathroom that had a second door leading to the living room or hallway.

    • AnonV2

      I don’t see how that is possible. It would seem that many condo 1BRs are self-contained (one door to the bedroom), and nobody builds fire escapes any more. Good luck escaping out of your 5th story window! I think that applies only to basement units. To have a legal unit in a DC townhouse you technically need two points of egress from the sleeping area. I don’t think it applies to high rises.

      • palisades

        Have you heard of the fire department? They have ladders to get to windows

      • textdoc

        I believe fire escapes were (are?) required for apartment buildings or condo buildings that have only a single stairwell (as opposed to two stairwells).

    • Former New Yorker

      I was surprised as well having moved here from Nyc two years ago. Calling windowless bedrooms junior one bedrooms. It’s so misleading. I rented one for a year and half for $2350 – 14W. Granted it was 600 sq ft

  • asd

    There are legal definitions of what counts as a bedroom in DC – and I’m pretty sure it has to have a window.

  • kittycatbob

    Legally, a bedroom must have a window for egress if it’s to be called a bedroom. Dens are different. This is a very standard law for most states.

    • Anonymous

      Legally how? Is there a law that requires the Shay to not call those a 1 bedroom? I’m unaware of such law if so.

  • SWchick

    I have a full-1 bedroom apt with no window in the bedroom and it is VERY popular in DC. When I went Apt hunting 2 year ago, almost every new apt building was offering this option. We have a open glass space in the bedroom that allows light to shine from the living room. Also, the square footage of the apts with a window in the bedroom are not necessarily larger.

    • textdoc

      That is typically described as a junior one-bedroom. I believe all of the units in the General Scott (on Scott Circle NW) are like that.

      • Anonymous

        Not anymore. It’s typically described as a 1 bedroom by most new buildings.

        • SWChick

          Anonymous is correct this is a full one bedroom. You can get a 800+sq 1 bedroom in Navy Yard without a widow in the bedroom. Its just how the buildings are set up now.

          • SWChick


        • textdoc

          I guess rental buildings don’t have to abide by MLS rules. (If MLS rules actually exist.)

  • Wow, are people renting these? $2200/month is the starting price for a sub 500-square feet studio.

    • houseintherear

      There appear to be a whole hell of a lot of empty units, at least as of Saturday evening when I walked by.

      • Anonymous

        Vast majority appear to be unoccupied. But the management/investors don’t care, so long as they can make their interest and tax payments and cover their monthly maintenance. Anything left over is gravy.
        No one in CRE pays principle; they refinance. Only suckers and “little people” make principle payments.

    • mcd

      I live near these units and have a friend that rents one. They do seem to be filling very slowly. I think he mentioned they are also “cutting deals” for 1 month free rent, etc. So the prices on the website are the top end prices- I am sure you can negotiate from there. Having seen his unit I would say it was definitely…cozy. Also I don’t care for the concept that bolting appliances on a wall counts as a kitchen- but the rental market is a little silly right now.

      • Nancy

        Thank You! for the kitchen comment. I was beginning to think I was the only one.

  • lauren

    in Md. (or at least moco) it must have a window and a closet to count as a bedroom

    • Marty

      I think that this may be an MLS rule, not an actual law.

      • Caroline

        Is that even a MLS rule in DC? Most of the Victorians were originally built without closets. A typical DC rowhouse that we’d call a three bedroom would technically be a zero bedroom if that were the case.

        • textdoc

          I’d imagine that bedrooms in houses before a certain year would be grandfathered in.

        • Rich

          Closets once were taxed as rooms–this was common in the South and may have been true here. My 1920s house in Atlanta had closets that obviously had been added later. The 1920s house in which I grew-up in Cleveland had plenty of closets as did other houses of that vintage.My 1920s apartments in Cleveland and Chicago had closets. People had armoires, do they adapted regardless..

      • Luman

        It is actually law from the IRC code (International Residential Construction), see my earlier comment above.

  • petworther

    The places above the Harris Teeter on Ontario Road don’t have any window in the entire apartment (only a skylight) and still rent for a fortune. What can you say other than people have strange preferences and someone is making a fortune.

  • Anon

    Given the Shay’s location by the flashing lights from 9th St restaurants (one of which flashes directly onto the westernmost building’s south side), the noise from the rooftops on Nellies & Brixton, the proximity to Howard and the related ambulances, and the general noise levels from 9th, U, and Florida, I sure as hell wouldn’t want a window in my bedroom if I lived there.

    Which I would never do, of course. Because I’m not insane.

    • anonna


      • DC CapHill

        +1 I actually upgraded the floorplan sans window, after I saw the location…..punishment enough.

  • MtP

    So much broad assumptions! It varies by jurisdiction, and many states do have the two-egress rule. Yes, you can’t jump out of a high rise window, but it does allow the fire dep’t to get to you. A VERY quick google search leads me to believe that DC does not have this requirement.


    • MtP

      The only bedroom requirement seems to be that the “room used for sleeping” be 70 square feet.

      • JoDa

        Yep. 70 ft2 for one to occupy, 50 ft2 per person for multiple to occupy (so 2 could share a bedroom of 100-149 ft2, 3 150-199, etc.). I had a group of 3 (no couple) look at my 2-bedroom, with the plan of having 2 share the master. I was a little floored when they said that it was one of the bigger bedrooms they were considering sharing, but it is ~140 ft2, so it actually brushes up on legal for 3. It also doesn’t have an operable window (it has a window, but it doesn’t open), and the DCRA inspector commented how nice it was that it had a window AT ALL, given many of the places she inspects. Since she made no commentary on failing said places without windows in the bedroom, and was looking at a place with one door and one non-operable window at the moment (and passed it, of course), I’d say 2 points of egress is NOT a legal requirement in DC.

  • B

    I’m not here to defend The Shay, but the OP’s posting somewhat distorts the prices. Yes, this unit – the penthouse – is $3,100 (I concede still high) – but a look at the other layouts shows one bedrooms at $2,200, which is not a crazy price for new one-bedroom apartment. I have also observed a number of times that new apartment buildings do seem to have crazy prices, because they are top of the pricing spectrum. All that said, when I walk by here, I see many lights on that appear to be empty units (an attempt to make the building look more full?).

    • DC_KT

      Pet peeve = real estate people calling something a “penthouse” just because it’s on the top floor of a building….along with tons of other apartments. But the floor plan certainly does look “cozy.”

      • Nancy

        My pet peeve (ok one of them) is calling something a kitchen when it’s just all that stuff lined up along one of the walls of the living room. I like to cook & bake, and I don’t need the living room all up in my face when I’m trying to do it. When did living room walls become kitchens?

        • ***

          When “open plan” become a hot-selling point

      • Harry

        At the Ritz Carlton condos in Foggy Bottom, the top THREE floors are called penthouses. They’re just regular condos on regular floors. I call them the penultimate floor, below that is the ultrapenultimate floor, and the double ultra penultimate floor. The blg does have actual penthouses, btw.

  • Chris

    Per the IBC:

    Min. Room Size – 7’ in any direction / 70 NSF

    Natural Ventilation – Where rooms and spaces without openings to the outdoors are ventilated through an adjoining room, the opening to the adjoining room shall be unobstructed and shall have an area of not less than 8 percent of the floor area of the interior room or space, but not less than 25 square feet (2.3 m2). The minimum openable area to the outdoors shall be based on the total floor area being ventilated.

    Natural Light – For the purpose of natural lighting, any room is permitted to be considered as a portion of an adjoining room where one-half of the area of the common wall is open and unobstructed and provides an opening of not less than one-tenth of the floor area of the interior room or 25 square feet (2.32 m2), whichever is greater.

    • charlie

      If you look at the floor plan in question, the room where they put the couch is the “bedroom” — not where they put the bed. Meets the requirements.

    • PCC

      Yup, DC Code does NOT define “bedroom” or “sleeping area.” Neither does the IBC, which DC has adopted as its building code. All of the “definitions” batted around on this thread might exist somewhere (Multiple Listing Service is the best guess) but they’re not the law here. And, as you point out, the “bedroom” doesn’t need its own windows; 3/4 height walls count for light & vent.

  • S

    I was always told that to be considered a bedroom it needed a window and a closet.
    at least that’s what I was told when buying here in DC!

  • John M

    Let’s be honest here – the people to whom these apartments are marketed towards aren’t worried about windows in their bedrooms nor are they worried about paying $2200+ for a studio. They’re more concerned about how much of a status symbol these apartments are supposed to be.

    • Anonymous

      Maybe it is status, $3,000+ and no powder room for guests? People have to use your personal bathroom. There are much better deals on U Street.

    • Shay-eyene

      We love it here. Please, stay wherever you are.

  • Lanier Heights resident

    I wonder if this is becoming the norm. Our new management company turned a lot of the studios in our 1938 Lanier Heights building into what they’re calling “junior one bedrooms” by putting up a couple of new walls in the units. The “bedroom” in each does have a real closet but no window and they’re all being rented out for around $2k/month. They wouldn’t do this if they’re not confident they’ll be leased…

    • textdoc

      It’s accurate to describe them as junior one-bedrooms; your building isn’t pulling a fast one.
      I _don’t_ think it’s accurate to describe them as “full” one-bedrooms, though SWChick and some others seem to think otherwise.
      Labels like “studio,” “junior one-bedroom,” “one-bedroom,” “one-bedroom plus den” can be very helpful in describing to potential buyers/renters what exactly a unit has and does not have. Sounds as though newer rental buildings are trying to blur what these terms mean.

      • SWchick

        Its not that I think that way, its the fact that this is what is being presented in DC to rent in “luxury” apts. I’ve seen many property management companies use the junior one bedroom term and it was usually based on the size of the apt not a window. Again, I am a recent renter in DC and toured several (too many lol) before I signed my lease. Some companies chose to use different terms.

    • JoDa

      In the building I live in, either the developer who flipped it or the company (possibly an individual) that owned it as low-income/Section 8 rentals before turned a lot of the 1-bedrooms into 2-bedrooms by installing a WHOLE lot of random walls. My money is on the former, since you’ll extract more from HUD by renting a 2-bedroom, even if the second bedroom is *exactly* 70 ft2, and they did manage to get most up to 100+ ft2 so it could technically be occupied by a family of 4. Since there are no minimum square footage requirements for general living spaces, and installing a non-load-bearing wall is not terribly expensive, there’s certainly an incentive to do something like this. This led to many *tiny* living rooms with no windows (couch? haha…you’ll be lucky to get a LOVESEAT in here!). Some of the “2-bedrooms” are under 600 ft2! I don’t think my unit was ever 2 bedrooms, but it easily could have been by adding 2 walls in what is now the living room (and, being well *over* 600 ft2, would have been one of the more spacious 2-bedrooms!).
      Many of the owners have knocked out these extraneous walls and converted the units back to 1-bedrooms.
      It presents an interesting question: which is better, in affordable housing terms? A small apartment with almost no living space but more bedrooms, or one with fewer bedrooms which is more comfortable? For those owners that have knocked out the walls, they now have a reasonable living space, but their unit can only be legally occupied by 2, rather than 4, people. Of course I believe that we can create reasonably-sized apartments, but if you have an old building that you can’t build up or out, is it better to have a bunch of apartments that can only accommodate single parents with one child or couples with no children while providing comfortable living spaces, or several which can accommodate up to 4 people in whatever family configuration they happen to come in (one parent with 2 or 3 kids or a couple with 1 or 2 kids) at the expense of common living space? I don’t have answers, just more of a “Rhode Island is neither a Road nor an Island…discuss.”

      • JoDa

        *my money is on the former owner, i.e., not the flipper…

  • DC_KT

    Most distressing to me in all of this is that there’s apparently only one closet in this entire $3116/month “penthouse” but I guess if you spend that much on rent you don’t have anything left to buy stuff?

    • ***

      What I find to be the most insane in this building is how much square footage has been allocated to balconies. Look, I love me some outdoor space as much as the next guy, but let’s be honest – we don’t live in San Diego. You can’t turn your balcony into an outdoor living or dining room to reclaim the scant interior space for the rest of your stuff 12 months out of the year in DC. I feel like most, if not all, of these units would have been better off with all of that balcony space INSIDE the unit, not outside of it.

      • Anonymous

        They can actually charge more in rent with that space as a balcony, rather than interior space. Private balconies and terraces are a “luxury” amenity. Plus, the cost of enclosing the balcony space increases construction costs. Balconies are big profit generator once you look at the cost savings on the construction side and rent premium once completed. Bananas.

        • ***

          I 100% understand it’s an amenity and they can charge more for it. That said, some of the floor plans for this building, like unit S3-E for instance, are so small that you have to choose if you want your interior space to be a bedroom or a living room – as their illustration shows, there is not room for both. I would argue that the outdoor space is actually a determinant to the quality of life in this unit.

      • Anon

        To each their own, I guess. I personally wouldn’t live in an apartment without at least some outdoor space, especially if it’s as cramped as the units I’ve seen at the Shay.

        • ***

          Have you seen S3-E?

      • DC_KT

        I agree, every time I’ve looked at a tiny apartment with a balcony I’ve thought “why didn’t you put that space in the unit??” But I do know people who won’t live anywhere without outdoor space as well. For me, if I cared that much about outdoor space I’d probably not live in the city.

        • Nancy

          I’m one of those who won’t live (anymore) without an outdoor space. Decades in basement apartments left me yearning for the ability to walk out onto my own space and not have it be the entrance to the townhouse. And I would never live outside the city. So there is that. Now I have a great apt., a wonderful balcony and a view that knocks your socks off. Only took a whole year of looking to find it ;).

          • ***

            I hear you. I live in a basement and miss having a balcony. But I also live in a very residential area a stones throw from Rock Creek Park, so it really just encourages me to leave the house and actually get outside when I want to get outside. And everything with a balcony is crazy expensive, IMO.

  • anon36

    I toured one of these apartments and certainly would not live there. Law or not, I consider a bedroom to be a room with a window. Even if there were no “bedroom” wall, the whole apartment would still be the size of a studio. Also, all of the hallways are actually outdoors like some cheap motel.

    • figby

      The Holm also has outdoor hallways, apparently as a selling point. What is the reasoning??

  • stacksp

    Hopefully no one leases the place and they stop trying to get over people. 1 out of 2 wouldnt be bad.

  • Nancy

    When I was looking last year in Shaw, NoMa & Potomac River/Nats Stadium area I came across two things I found unacceptable. 1) The kitchen is actually one of the living room walls; 2) bedrooms without windows. Some of the windowless bedrooms had high up glass windows into the living room so there could be some natural light coming in I guess.

    But fortunately I didn’t settle and kept going. Found the apt. of my dreams and budget. But I wouldn’t be surprised to learn I got the only one after a full year of searching for an apartment and looking at a whole lot of bad (but expensive) spots and a couple of bait & switch places.

  • Edward Darden

    As always, check with City officials or with a lawyer. That said, I believe the standard bedroom in The District must have a closet and separation from the other rooms. That means a window is not required and if there is a window, it must not be blocked as with security bars. I could be wrong. Call 311 and they should put you in contact with the proper authority. Meanwhile, stock up on air freshener.

  • Elise Moore

    If you are looking to buy, the River Park Coop in SW is a bargain. Its currently undergoing renovations, and getting new landscaping. It has nice fitness center and a pool. One block from the metro, one block from the Potomac /Wharf, new Whole Foods 6 blks awy in 6 months, Nats Stadium, Capitol Bikeshare. I’ve seen prices in the highrise and it seems super reasonable for a 1 or 2 bedroom. Another bonus- the people here are very chill – lots of interesting folks. This neighborhood is a sleeper.

  • jeffb

    It is correct that to be a legal bedroom there must be two points of egress for fire safety (normally a door and a window). However, from what I gathered when looking into this to see if my third-floor loft was legal, a fire suppression system can make a bedroom legal. This is why apartment buildings more than two stories high have to have a fire suppression system (though some are grandfathered, I think)). I would assume that a basement room without a second egress can become a legal bedroom if there is a fire suppression system. Otherwise it is a den. When I looked at the legal requirements on this stuff I never came across requirements for a closet though I’m not the highest authority on all this.

  • MPLady

    Housing codes are different for new properties and old and different for large apartment complexes versus residential properties. I imagine that this building has a sprinkler system, which might be factored in with the HVAC already mentioned below.

  • S

    I have a one bedroom with no window in the bedroom but I live in silver spring in a high rise. I am sure the egress requirement is different for multi family dwellings and high rises.

  • Terpsie
    • NH Ave Hiker

      In the bathtub, of course.

    • ***

      Also, you have to watch the TV at an angle

    • BMouse

      Sleep? I be at the bar, bro.

    • stacksp

      Pull out couch. Chicks dig a pull out couch.. Netflix and chill on the pull out couch.

    • eggs

      This has to be a joke. Please dear god, that can’t be a real apartment.

    • Anonymoi

      At your Grindr date’s apartment.


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