Washington, DC

Photo by PoPville flickr user Phil

“Dear PoPville,

I have a freestanding house in DC and a few years ago we “finished” off the basement. I say “finished” because all the contractors we talked to said the ceiling was too low (69″ instead of 74″ if I remember right) for it to be living space, it had to be classified as storage. We put in lights, outlets, drywall, replaced the windows and redid the floor, which were all allowed, inspected, and approved.

The thing is, what we wanted most was a small bathroom down there, but we were told the ceiling was too low. I’ve seen many other similar houses with bathrooms and even kitchenettes in the basement, but those were all grandfathered in before the current codes. The contractor we went with advised to do everything else above the board first, then try to do the bathroom on its own later. That way if we were caught doing unpermitted work, we would only be out the time and money spent on the bathroom. So now a few years have passed, and I’m thinking of trying to sneak in a small bathroom, just a toilet, pedestal sink, and shower stall, definitely nothing fancy.

So two questions:

1) It’s a very quiet street and there’s a separate basement entrance off the back of our driveway, so it’s unlikely anyone would ever notice, but what happens if an inspector just happens to be walking by?

2) We’re planning on staying gain this house for another 20 years probably, but what happens when we sell it and there are 2.5 bathrooms, but the city only knows of 1.5?

and 3) Anything else I haven’t thought of?

Any advice would be welcome!”


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