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basement bedroom - Can you have a Basement Bedroom with no Window?

Can you have a Basement Bedroom with No Egress Window?

Can you have a basement bedroom with no egress window?

Your teenage child is getting to the stage of life where they want privacy. You rent a house with a basement room you believe would be a perfect fit for a “teen cave/bedroom. ” It has a small window – not big enough to crawl out of in case of a fire. Can you use it as a bedroom?

You’ve rented a house with a basement and two large rooms that would work well as bedrooms, but they don’t have any windows. Your friend and daughter would like to move in with you as roommates. The extra income would help with your rent, and you’d be helping your friend with an affordable place to live. Can you rent the two rooms to your friend and her daughter as bedrooms?

You’re a landlord who wants to convert your rental property into a rooming house. The basement rooms have bars on the windows. Can you rent it out as is?

In Alberta, the short answer is no. The slightly longer version is  – only if the house has a fire sprinkler system. Both Safety Codes Alberta and The Minimum Housing and Health Standards Alberta include regulations/standards for emergency egress and both apply to your rental property.

According to Safety Codes Alberta, “unless a bedroom has a door that leads directly to the building exterior or the building has a fire sprinkler system, each bedroom must have at least one window that can open from the inside without the use of tools or technical knowledge (egress). The window must provide an unobstructed opening with a minimum area of 0.35 m2 (3.77 ft2 or 543 in2), with no dimension less than 380 mm (15”).” 

The below diagrams B and C are examples of egress windows that conform to the height, width, and area requirements from safetycodes.ab.ca/ASCA.

Egress window dimensions - Safety Codes Alberta
Egress windows -dimensions source; Safety Codes Alberta

It’s not just size that matters with egress windows. If your basement windows have security bars, they must be removed. If there is a window well, it also needs to be large enough to allow escape from the window.

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Egress windows that meet both Minimum Housing and Health Standards and the Alberta Building Code include;

  • Full vent inswing awning
  • Casement
  • Slider

For more information on acceptable windows, see https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/assets/wf/eph/

The Minimum Housing and Health Standards of the Housing Regulation, Section 66 of the Public Health Act states:

III. HOUSING PREMISES; (3. Safe and Secure) (b) Emergency Egress For buildings of 3 storeys or less and except where a bedroom door provides access directly to the exterior or the suite is sprinklered, each bedroom shall have at least one outside window which may be opened from the inside without the use of tools or special knowledge. (i) Windows referred to above shall provide unobstructed openings with areas not less than 0.35 m2 (3.8ft2 ), with no dimension less than 380 mm (15 in.). (ii) If the window referred above is provided with security bars, the security bars shall be installed so they may be opened from the inside without the use of any tools or special knowledge.

Although the regulations may sound excessive for egress windows, they can make the difference between life and death. Three minutes is all it takes to create a deadly environment. When a fire occurs, a small room can erupt in flames; thick smoke could suffocate or prevent a person from finding an opening, and heat can melt clothes, skin or scorch lungs. Carbon monoxide, hydrogen, cyanide, and ammonia can numb the senses. There is no shortage of tragic stories caused by fire/lack of adherence to safety standards.

  • On July 31, 2008, two men died in a Calgary rooming house sparked by an electrical overload. The landlord was fined $92K for violating health and safety codes.
  • On January 26, 2009, three people died in a basement fire in Calgary caused by a space heater placed too close to a couch. The bedrooms did not have windows that met the Alberta  Building Code requirements and had bars on windows that couldn’t be opened from the inside. The house did not have wired smoke alarms. The landlords were fined $89,700.
  • On Nov 2013, Alisha Lamers, a 24-year-old Toronto woman died in an illegal rooming house basement fire that did not have egress, had iron bards on the bedroom windows,  and did not have operational smoke alarms. The landlord was fined $75,000, however, Lamer’s parents sued the landlord for $5 million.

The fines the landlords paid did not bring back the lives lost due to their negligence.

As a landlord, it is your responsibility to ensure your rental premises follow the minimum housing and health standards and the building codes so that your tenants are safe.

Do you have wired smoke alarms in your basement rentals?  I’d love to hear about them nelda@neldaschulte.com

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