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  1. #1
    Chris Currie's Avatar
    Chris Currie Guest

    Default How to research 1905 ceiling height requirement??

    Hi, I'm trying to figure out whether we can convert a finished basement we currently use for classroom space into a rental apartment. When we renovated the space, we did it according to code and it doesn't appear there are too many add'l steps needed to use it as an apartment -- except one big one: the ceiling height in the main room is only 6'6" and the bathroom is even lower at 6'2".

    The county code indicates that there is an exception for houses built before 1966 -- that the ceiling height just needs to conform to the code prevailing when they were built. Our house was built in 1905. How in the world would I find out what the ceiling height requirement would have been in 1905? Did national or international building codes even exist back then?

    Our attitude is that if the tenant isn't exceptionally tall they can live safely and comfortably in the apartment -- more safely than on the main or second floors of many legal residences in our town. But unless we can show that the ceiling height passed muster in 1905 we can't get a rental license. Would be grateful for any leads or assistance --

    Chris

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: How to research 1905 ceiling height requirement??

    Chris
    Exceptions, like the one you mention, are for "As built". Exceptions generally do not apply for new construction or remodel work.

    The min height for a room is 7'0".

    When converting a basement into a rental apartment you will need to meet ALL new codes for all the work you do.

    Check with your local building department before you do anything else.
    Many times they will come out for a look.

    ' correct a wise man and you gain a friend... correct a fool and he'll bloody your nose'.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: How to research 1905 ceiling height requirement??

    The best place to start would be the City/County/Township that handles your building permits. Since they would be accepting the application and handling the inspections, they would, or should, know the answers.

    I doubt they will approve a new permit with a ceiling height that low, no matter when it was built, as the times have changed since 1905. And they would require a significant upgrade to many other systems (plumbing, electrical, HVAC, egress, etc.)

    Historically, people who apply for a remodel or new construction building code variance similar to your request are usually turned down for safety reasons.

    Dom.


  4. #4
    Chris Currie's Avatar
    Chris Currie Guest

    Default Re: How to research 1905 ceiling height requirement??

    Thanks for the clarification, Rick. The remodel work was done a couple years ago, and involved things like adding add'l electrical outlets, a couple more HVAC registers, new lights, closets, and a granite tile floor. We also improved the entrance by replacing the door and adding an ADA-compliant ramp for wheelchair access.

    The bathroom has not been remodeled; however, it certainly does not date from the building of the house. The cast-iron sink looks to me a 1930s or 1940s vintage.

    I can't say when the basement was first used as living space; it might date from the previous owner who lived there for decades by himself and converted most of the house into separate apartments, or maybe the original owners, who were childless and might have taken on a tenant in their retirement.

    But, if I read your post correctly, as soon as we did any work on the basement, we lost our "grandfathered" status on ceiling height (it's only 6'6"). That certainly encourages homeowners to maintain substandard conditions in their accessory apartments!

    Chris


  5. #5
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    Default Re: How to research 1905 ceiling height requirement??

    "But, if I read your post correctly, as soon as we did any work on the basement, we lost our "grandfathered" status on ceiling height ..."

    That's correct.

    Still contact your local building department, they may have suggestions that are usefull for you.

    ' correct a wise man and you gain a friend... correct a fool and he'll bloody your nose'.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: How to research 1905 ceiling height requirement??

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Currie View Post
    That certainly encourages homeowners to maintain substandard conditions in their accessory apartments!

    Chris
    Well... when it comes right down to it, what you want to do is to create a "new and improved" substandard condition, isn't it?

    The line has to be drawn somewhere, and one place it is commonly drawn is when there is a change of use, as for example when someone wants to convert a basement to an "accessory apartment".

    And for that matter, a "finished basement" used as "classroom space"?

    At least in my area very few "finished basements" in older buildings - even in commercial spaces - would even begin to approach the code requirements for such use without compliant emergency egress, at least two separate bathroom facilities, a fire suppression system, full ADA compliance, etc.).

    I suppose you may be compliant with some more limited set of requirements depending on the specific use, but a "classroom space" with a 6' 2" bathroom ceiling?

    Last edited by Michael Thomas; 05-03-2010 at 04:26 AM.
    Michael Thomas
    Paragon Property Services Inc., Chicago IL
    http://paragoninspects.com

  7. #7
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    Default Re: How to research 1905 ceiling height requirement??

    If the 1905 building was left intact as it was constructed in 1905, then it can remain as it is (in the unaltered state).

    However, as soon as you make repairs, alterations, renovations, etc., all the "new" work is to be done in accordance with the codes in effect at the time the "new" work was done.

    That means you could have a 1905 structure with work (alterations, repairs, renovations, etc.) in compliance with a 1930 code, a 1935 code, a 1950 code, a 2000 code, all depending on the code in effect at the time the work was done.

    Thus, you did not lose your 1905 ceiling height acceptance, but you cannot apply that 1905 ceiling height to 2010 work - the 2010 work must be done in accordance with the codes in effect at the time the work was started.

    Notice that I changed "the time work was done" to "the time work was started" as the code which applies is not the code in effect at the time the work was completed but the code which was in effect at the time the work was started (and, yes, "started" means the time permit was applied for).

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  8. #8
    erika krieger's Avatar
    erika krieger Guest

    Default Re: How to research 1905 ceiling height requirement??

    Yes, sounds like a change of occupancy. Is the classroom use even legal? Depending on what the final occupancies will be, you'll want to use the Maryland Building Rehabilitation Code [based on the IEBC] --or perhaps Appendix J of the Residential code, if ultimately there will be just 2 dwelling units .... These codes make adjustments or allowances for certain existing substandard conditions to remain, altho 6'-6" is probably pushing it..... Variances often involve upgrades that exceed code, to offset the deficiencies. The Maryland Codes Administration website and your local code enforcement official are good starting places.


  9. #9
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    Default Re: How to research 1905 ceiling height requirement??

    That is pretty low ceiling you are describing. The firefighters who would respond in the event of an emergency are likely taller than that, especially with their helmets on.


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