One would think that calling a room a bedroom is a formality, and a family can sleep anywhere it can fit a bed, futon or sleeping bag. True, you can sleep in the living room for all anyone cares, but counting actual bedrooms in a home is serious business.

The number of bedrooms determines the price of a home, its appraised value, property tax and even the size of the septic system, if there is one. Misrepresenting the true number can have serious implications across a number of legal documents and violate various building codes. But more important, calling a room a bedroom if it doesn’t qualify as one can endanger occupants and guests in a home.

So what then is a bedroom? From a real estate perspective, a room that has four walls, at least one adequately sized window and a closet can be called a bedroom. One may quibble if the closet is located just outside the room, but you get the point—it’s a room where you can sleep and hang up Stuff so it’s not piled on the floor.

From a building code standpoint, a room can be used as a bedroom if it has an exit to the outside in case of a fire in the home. You can see then that the two definitions can be at odds, and a room that meets one of the standards may not necessarily meet the other.

For example, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a basement room used as a bedroom. It may have a closet, but if the window is a typically tiny one high on the wall, there’s no way someone can get out in case of a fire. The same goes for rooms in lofts that have a closet and one or more skylights, but no windows (I’m looking at you, Wynwood Estates!).

To make matters more interesting, some township codes will not allow a finished attic room with a closet and windows to be called a bedroom because of the height above ground. That rule makes little sense, considering how many two-story houses with walk-out basements have bedrooms on the second level high enough to launch hang gliders.

So a bedroom can be defined as a room that offers a safe place to sleep, with built-in storage for clothing and personal belongings. Libraries and dens do not qualify as bedrooms, although it’s safe to stick grandma in there overnight when she visits. Basements and lofts are great for sleepover parties, as long as guests have somewhere safe to crash. When in doubt, contact your township’s building department, and make sure you follow all safety guidelines, including having smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors near all sleeping areas.

And don’t try to cheat when you list your home for sale. I once showed a condo where the owner claimed that the family room that opened to the kitchen was another bedroom because it had a closet and windows. Seriously.

Are you still confused about the legal definition of rooms in a house? Contact me for a thorough explanation.

Bo Twerdowsky

Real estate agent, self-professed computer geek, grammar policeman, proud father of two. Opinionated, questioning, intolerant of stuffy sorts devoid of a sense of humor.