British Columbia

Why Realtors and landlords can call rooms of any shape or size a den

“This is one of those cases where beauty is in the eye of the beholder and one person's closet might be another person's den.”

For homebuyers and renters, a den can be almost anything

This room in an East Vancouver house might fit the bill for a traditional den, but there are no rules in B.C. for rooms labelled as such. (Clare Hennig/CBC)

The word "den" might have certain connotations: a cozy office, perhaps, or a tucked-away sitting room.

But if you've ever been to an open house for a Lower Mainland condo, you may have seen that's not always the case.

That's because, legally speaking, there are no rules for dens in B.C.

"We often have this bedroom, den, flex space, storage room debate," Realtor Keith Roy said, adding that it's a tough question when Realtors are writing a listing.

"This is one of those cases where beauty is in the eye of the beholder and one person's closet might be another person's den."

For homebuyers, those lax rules might lead to endless sifting through misleading listings or attending fruitless open houses.

But as those tiny dens are rented out on the secondary market, it also means some renters are forced to shell out for what some call unsuitable spaces to live in.

It's a fine pantry, but can you really call this a den? It was sold as one by a Realtor. (CBC)

Buyer beware

CBC News spoke to the Real Estate Association of B.C., the Real Estate Council of B.C., and the Ministry of Housing and Ministry of Finance. All said they had no rules on square footage or features for a room labelled a den.

A bedroom is different, a Ministry of Housing spokesperson said: it must have access to the outside of the unit, through a window, for instance.

The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver offers "guidance" on the subject, executive director Craig Munn said, that a den is any room without a closet.

On Facebook, members of the CBC Vancouver: Housing and Real Estate discussion group said they have seen first-hand what passes as a den.

Two people recounted seeing dens the size of closets at some viewings. One claimed they saw a "den" that was only big enough to fit the homeowners' vacuum cleaner and broom — yet the Realtor said it could be used as an office.

A Vancouver den in a condo listing. Prior to a Realtor staging it as a functional office, this room was actually used for storage. It is about three square metres in size. (Jane Armstrong/CBC)

Roy said when it comes to rooms marketed as dens, it's buyer beware. A room has to be seen to be believed and it has to be viewed with an eye for what it will be used for.

He also urged homebuyers to hire a Realtor. They may have familiarity with the listing and its floor plan and know what the room is really like.

'A closet prison'

Tristan Clarke, a 35-year-old brewery sales rep, was looking online for a room to rent, not buy, when he saw an entry on Facebook Marketplace that to him was the entire Vancouver rental market in a single photo.

The listing was for a Downtown Vancouver den. A photo, taken with a fisheye lens, showed a room barely wide enough to fit a single bed and a rolling clothes rack.

Tristan Clarke posted this photo on Reddit of a Vancouver den rental. He felt it was a perfect summary of the rental market in Vancouver. (Tristan Clarke)

The post's author wanted $650 per month.

"I guess they call it a den. It looked more like a closet prison," Clarke said.

"When I saw that it was just, like, oh my God, this is outrageous. Somebody is obviously willing to pay upwards of six hundred dollars for a closet."

The post has since been removed, he added, but Sydney Ball of the Vancouver Tenants Union said such listings are not out of the ordinary.

"There's no options or choices for tenants in the market right now," Ball said. "People will live where they need to live. Whether that means cramming into a den, cramming multiple people into a bedroom."

The Ministry of Housing said just like listing a den, there are no rules at the provincial level for renting out a den to a tenant.

Ball says until the rental market improves, these rooms will remain dens of iniquity.

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