Home Buying in 07206>Question Details

ken, Home Owner in Elizabeth, NJ

I have a room in the attic which has a window and closet. What would I have to do to make it a legal bedroom.?

Asked by ken, Elizabeth, NJ Thu Jan 24, 2013

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The staircase and ceiling height will have to meet current code, too.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Jan 30, 2013
Last reply..

I have never seen a citizen call or go to the township, and say..."I want to do X to my home, here's what is there now, do I need a permit or building/zoning approvals?" and the town just randomly send out an inspector. Their resources are limited and they don't want to give themselves unnecessary work. They make the determination based on what's there, what needs to be done, what the ordinances say, and then let you know if you need to apply for anything and how to dgo about it.

Since we don't know how finished or unfinished Ken's attic is, other than it has a window and a closet, let's assume it's not finished.

Ken...here's the link to the Elizabeth Zoning application form. It CLEARLY says:

"WHAT USE, CHANGE, OR ADDITION, IS NEEDED? (For example, "finished attic" or "change
one- to two-family," or "demolish garage and replace underneath house," or "convert pizza parlor to
beauty salon."). So if you are "finishing an attic" or converting it to a bedroom, you very well might need approval.


Here's a link to the Elizabeth Building code application form. It clearly indicates approval needed for electrical (ie: if adding outlets), fire inspections, insulation approval, which would need to be done if the room needs more than a door.

The zoning ordinance in Elizabeth says :

15.12.500 - Required space in sleeping rooms.

"In every dwelling unit of two or more habitable rooms, every room occupied for sleeping purposes by one occupant shall have a minimum gross floor area of at least seventy-five (75) square feet. Every room occupied for sleeping purposes by more than one occupant shall have a minimum gross floor area of fifty (50) feet per occupant thereof. Every room used for sleeping purposes shall have a minimum width of seven feet and a minimum floor-to-ceiling height of seven feet."

It also says:

17.36.050 - Bedroom density.

For each residential structure on an individual zone lot, bedroom density shall not exceed the maximum density permitted in the district in which such structure is located, as specified in Schedule IB.

Again, I stress, if you are thinking about doing the changes, ASK first, then decide if you want to move ahead with the changes based on the replies you get. There are very specific building and zoning codes you must meet, as you can see. You may very well be able to do the work yourself and save costs by not using a contractor, but if it needs a permit and/or inspections to be LEGAL...GET IT !!
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Jan 29, 2013
and all my point is that pending on what the plans for the house represent, it might be unnecessary to go to the town, which pending on municipality, might charge for any sort of review and inspection regardless if it is necessary or not. To go to the town before making a decision is just throwing good money into away unnecessarily.

I do agree with you that before you list the property, there should be some sort of review of how the town is classified according to the assessment (and I recommend utilizing the free assessors tool for every property in the state offered by the assessors board http://www.njactb.org) but the idea of just go to the town and they will know what to do is doing a disservice and making assumptions for the person asking the question.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Jan 29, 2013
His question was how to make it a LEGAL bedroom. That means he's needs to find out from the town what is required and allowed ...PERIOD...from both zoning and building departments which have different and overlapping code requirements..
How irresponsible to suggest he just add a door.As a realtor you know there needs to be, at a minimum, a fire inspection for smoke and CO detectors when the bedrooms are already present, so he would definitely need a fire inspection if converting a "room with a closet and a window" into an actual permanent living space. IMHO making sure the room meets fire code to prevent a tragedy far outweighs the possibility of a minor tax increase or cost of the inspection.
I bet if you had a buyer for this home in the future and it had unreported, unpermitted bedroom you'd be all over the owner for inspections and permits.
Penny wise and pound foolish just doesn't make sense. If all he needs to do is add a door then he's fine.. no harm no foul. Believe it or not the purpose of these rules are for safety of the residents. The fact that municipalities charge to make sure things are done properly should not deter anyone from doing it correctly right from the start.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Jan 29, 2013
Do you need a permit to install a door in a house? He stated that he has a room in the attic without mentioning the current condition of the attic. So if all he needs to do right now is install a doorway in a finished existing room, why bring attention to the town which might raise his taxes due to the conversion if he intends to sell the house in six months?

Keith correctly answered the question to begin with considering the information given. All recommendations to go to the zoning officer and get the municipality involved prematurely might cost ken some money he does not have to spend in taxes until it is necessary to spend. I would state that in my experience of working with municipalities, that most municipalities just for examining something like this will charge some sort of review fee and the information by law has to be posted in a publicly available document.

So what I would recommend to ken is:
1) Get the zoning code from the town (preferably on-line) if it is available, and if not go to town hall and review whether your zoning would allow the use
2) Do the work himself or call a local window and.or door company or local contractor to complete the work
3) Decide based on the zoning whether there will be a problem completing the work and if it does require extensive work with a contractor at that point call the building inspector.

But telling someone to run to the town when they don't have to could be a waste of their time and money on a simple question which required a simple answer, which was my original point.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Jan 28, 2013
Assuming you're connected to sewer and not on a septic system the process is relatively straight forward. You will need to apply for a building permit (or hire a licensed contractor who will do this as part of the job) and finish off the room. Depending on the size of the window it may need to be enlarged to meet code requirements for egress. All wiring will need to be done by a licensed electrician and all of the work will need to be inspected by the county and the county/city building inspection department will sign of (effectively closing out the building permit) once a final inspection has been done.

You'll also want to check to make certain that there are no zoning regulations that may limit you to a specific number of bedrooms. It definitely pays to work with a contractor who is well known in your local area as they will already be completely familiar with the process and can guide you through it to make certain everything is done legally so that there's no future issues with the State or County.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sat Jan 26, 2013
Thank you very much. You cleared away a lot of smoke.
Thanks again
Flag Sat Jan 26, 2013
Any time you add new framing, insulation, plumbing, add or upgrade electrical , change windows, reroof, re-side etc., you usually need a permit regardless of who is doing the work and there will be inspections along the way. There are also guidelines in the building codes for proper ingress and egress. ALL of these rules are in place for safety issues to make sure it's all up to current building code, especially for fire code reasons.
Yes adding a bedroom might change your assessment and raise your taxes, but I thinks it's a bit irresponsible to suggest NOT following the rules and finding out what can or cannot be done legally, how to do it legally if you so choose, and the impact it will have on assessment if that's a concern.
Regardless of if you are thinking of selling now or not, imagine if you didn't get permits and didn't know how to build to code, and there was a fire? Imagine when you do try to sell and the house is recorded as a 2 bedroom and you built a third, especially without permits...headaches galore.
Better to do it right , right from the start.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sat Jan 26, 2013
I thought that in New Jersey you only need to get permits if you are hiring a contractor to complete the work? Although I do agree that there is definitely a time to contact the zoning officer, by doing so, you might trigger a reassessment on your house and raise your taxes as well by going through the town to add a third room especially if you are not immediately looking to sell.

Yes, getting the proper permitting is important to avoid head ache, but I think the question that needed to be answered was to make sure that the room has a proper doorway as it might already qualify.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Jan 25, 2013
Thanks to Sandra for echoing my comments about speaking to the zoning office first.
Since it will be a living space it will have to meet specific building codes for safety purposes which is why you will need plans of some sort and inspections along the way.
Do not do this without getting the proper permits first. It could cause a heap of problems, especially if you decide to sell in the future.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Jan 25, 2013
Before remodeling, call your local municipality and ask to speak to the Zoning Officer. Possibly, there will be an inspection of your property or you'll be advised of the formal process when you call. Sometimes an exterior stairwell is required for egress too. So take the first step and call the Zoning Officer.

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0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Jan 24, 2013
Speak to your township zoning officer
They can guide you through the process of plans, permits, inspections etc.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Jan 24, 2013
In the state of New Jersey, all bedrooms must have a full size window, formal closet and door. Also being above basement level helps as below level tend to be problematic. Best of luck!
0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Jan 24, 2013
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