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What is a Legal Bedroom in NYC?

Your broker just showed you a terrific one-bedroom apartment, except you could stand in the middle of the “bedroom” and touch all four walls, which made it considerably less terrific.

“Is that even legal?” you ask. The short answer is probably “no.” The more complicated answer is that size requirements vary according to when the building was built or converted, in which zoning district it’s located, and even how many bedrooms the apartment, condo, co-op, condop or townhouse contains.

Definition of a legal bedroom

New York City Building Codes were updated in 1968, 2008 and again in 2014. According to the 2008 New York City Building Code, which applies to most multi-family buildings constructed between 2008 and the present, a legal bedroom must generally meet these criteria:

  • Have a minimum of 80 square feet and no dimension measuring less than 8 feet. If the apartment contains three or more bedrooms, half of the bedrooms may have a minimum dimension of 7 feet.
  • Have a minimum ceiling height of 8 feet. If the bedroom is in a basement, it must have a ceiling height of at least 7 feet. If there’s a sloped ceiling over all or part of the room, there must be a clear ceiling height of at least 7 feet over at least two-thirds of the room.
  • Have at least one window that opens to a street, yard, garden or court on the same lot. In some zoning districts, skylights may be substituted for windows.
  • Have two means of egress; whether egress is via window or a door, it must be operable from the inside without the use of keys, tools or special skills.
  • Cannot serve as a passage to another room.

Many brokers and leasing agents suggest that a bedroom must also include a closet if it’s to be considered “legal,” but the NYC building code does not include such a requirement.

Buyers, renters react differently

Renters may be willing to sleep in a minuscule, windowless room if the apartment is within their price range and in their desired neighborhood.

“There’s no real downside for renters,” says John Jourden, associate broker at the Spire Group.

“Buyers, on the other hand, will not look the other way and pretend something is a bedroom if it’s not. A condo may have a good-sized room that doesn’t have a window, but buyers and their brokers are generally sophisticated enough to know that space probably isn’t a legal bedroom. Even if they end up using it as a bedroom, they know it has to be marketed as something else, most likely as a home office. It’s valuable space, it’s simply not a bedroom.”

New York City Buildings spokesman Alexander Schnell stresses that building codes and their interpretation can be tricky. Consumers can familiarize themselves with the codes but it will likely take a pro to know when exceptions might apply.

“I can’t imagine spending hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars without hiring an engineer or architect to verify that the property you’re considering meets code,” says Schell. “Interpreting building codes can be complicated. No one wants to mess up a real estate purchase because they tried to save a few bucks by doing it themselves.”

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