If a fire breaks out in your home or apartment, do you know where your house keys are? Can you find them if your apartment is filled with smoke? Are they in your purse? On the kitchen counter? In the couch?
We have had several emails in the past week regarding exterior door locks and how to stay within building codes and still maintain a high-level of security. First building codes require that people are able to unlock and exit emergency egress doors:
- without the need for special tools or special knowledge;
- operation shall be accomplished with a minimum amount of effort (no more than 15 lbf) of force;
- to protect against inadvertent operation by a young child, the release mechanism(s) requires two distinct actions to operate;
- the release mechanisms must have their operating mechanisms clearly identified for use in an emergency; and,
- release devices cannot be designed in a manner which accommodates the use of locking devices which require special tools or knowledge to operate, such as combination locks or keyed locks.
These requirements are found in buildings codes across the country, not just the District of Columbia.
There are several types of locks available on the market that meet this requirement that have a thumb release from the interior. Several folks have asked us for local companies who can help identify the best locking system for your apartment or specific brands of locks that work best. However, we cannot legally suggest specific companies or brands of locks. So if you’re a current landlord or contractors who has found a system that works well for you and stays within codes, please share your solution.
Note: Any companies or brands mentioned in the comments are not to be considered as an endorsement by DCRA.
A quick post to let you know we’ve just post a clearer version of the basic six-step process to apply for a business license for your basement rental. As with any project, there could be some variables including applying for building permits if necessary to come into code compliance, but this is essentially the process. You can get everything done – except for the rent control registration – on the second floor of our new offices at 1100 4th Street SW. A lot of the minor repairs that may need to be made might be able to be done with our Postcard Permit which you can get online from home or work for about $30 and without ever stepping foot in our offices. See the more than 60 projects this covers and apply here. Thanks all for your recent comments and support.
- Mike Rupert, DCRA
Thank you to everyone for an amazing first week – more than 6,500 views and over 60 comments. And we’re already seeing people share recommendations for contractors, tips for code compliant window bars, constructive criticism and kudos. One issue we wanted to fix as quickly as possible was to pull out more detail from the codes and provide property owners with more information on what we’re looking for. So tonight we just updated the CHECKLIST and now you have specifics on ceiling height, outlets required in bedrooms and bathrooms, minimum square footage for living rooms and bedrooms, and other details on requirements. We hope this new list is useful.
To answer the question many of you have asked, the minimum ceiling height for basement apartments – and all habitable rooms actually – is 7 feet. Many people have emailed, tweeted and commented about this requirement and if it is higher than what was required in the past. It’s not. The 1930 DC Building Code actually required 8 feet on every story. As did the 1933 Building Code and all building codes through 1991 when it was changed to 7 feet as it stands today. We will post a more details soon and cover some of the exceptions and variables, but none of the exceptions currently included approval of units with rooms where people are “living, eating, sleeping, or cooking” with a ceiling height lower than 7 feet. The DC codes are identical, in nearly every case, to the codes adopted by most U.S. states, counties and cities.
Another question people have asked is in what zones are basement apartments allowed. As a basic rule, Residential-4 and Residential-5 allow basement rentals. And, they can also be allowed in most of the Commercial Zones. You can check what zone your property or a property your planning to buy is with the Office of Zoning’s interactive map.
Our idea for the site, again, was to create an easy to find resource to share information, answer questions, and allow for a open discussion among property owners, contractors, inspectors, plan reviewers and tenants to discuss these important issues. It is our first week and we’ve tried to answer as many questions as possible and hope it’s been helpful. Our plan is to post as regularly as possible – most likely once every week or two – and will feature information on sections of the code that seem to cause the most frustration. We also hope to bring in our own experts and outside inspectors to discuss ways to come into compliance for properties with unique spaces and challenges. If you have ideas you would like to see covered – some are very clear including ceiling height, fire alarms, window bars, door locks and are already planning on making those among the first topics to cover – please let us know. Thank you again as we build the site and hopefully, eventually create an excellent resource for all.
- Mike Rupert, DCRA
Yesterday, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) ending up in a huge conversation about the fears, misconceptions, challenges, issues and obstacles facing DC residents who are either considering renting their basement as a rental property, buying a home with a basement apartment they plan to rent, currently renting their basement apartment (legally and illegally) and other various scenarios. The District of Columbia is filled with basement apartments and entire generations of folks have at one point or another lived underneath other people.
Many of the comments posted we hear every day and others were surprising. The conversation was good enough, we thought, to create a easy-to-find, easy-to-use site that allowed these conversations to continue. While some suggested we create a flier or a some sort of booklet, the number of various scenarios based on location within DC, age of your home, history of the unit among many others makes outreach extremely difficult. We’ll always be missing something. So tonight we’re launching this site to create a central location not only for information and tips from DCRA but also to allow residents to share stories with DCRA and others like them.
We hope this will be useful and like our other sites, we are sure this will expand beyond basement apartments eventually, but it’s a good start and a nod to you DC residents so you know we’re listening. We’ll be filling out the pages over the next few days and if you have ideas, please let us know via the comments or via email.
- Mike Rupert, DCRA