Recently I had a colleague (non-real estate) ask me about a set of stairs he had in his father’s home that he was attempting to sell. Problem was the stairwell had absolutely no handrail or stair-rail, meaning there was nothing to grab onto if someone were to slip and fall down the stairs.
All dangers and possible lawsuits aside, a problem like this also poses an issue for people looking to buy a home. In Northern Kentucky most lenders and insurance companies will not fund or insure a home where an open staircase exists.
To get a clearer picture about what lenders and insurance companies are looking for I turned to my expert inspector Todd Scott from Pillar to Post in Northern Kentucky. He gave me some pointers for what to look for when you are about to buy or sell your home.
According to Scott, typically insurance companies require a handrail of some sort on all steps that raise 36″ above grade, or above the floor below, by using the four step rule (if there are four or more steps you need a railing) usually covers this requirement. In addition to this, the handrail must have spindles or posts that prevent someone from falling between the railing and the stairs.
So do all stairs with more than 4 steps require a handrail?
Scott says that steps that follow a grade, like large steps you see going up a hill to a home, and do not raise 36″ above the ground may be exempt from the railing rule but it’s on a case by case basis.
But what does a lender and insurance company care about a handrail?
There are two facets to this issue. Say you are a buyer and you are planning on getting an FHA or VA loan. While there are some requirements for conventional loans, government backed loans come with a slew of other requirements. For a cheat sheet of what to look for when you are selling your home or buying one, you can print this cheat sheet out here. For a more detailed explanation of requirements, click here.
So, what if you’re getting a conventional loan and nothing has been mentioned?
Not so fast. One of the things many insurance companies look at when insuring a home is the inspector’s report. 99.9999% inspectors will and should identify stairways that lack proper rails. If you were an insurance company, would you take the risk? If you want to know what inspectors look for on stairways and handrails you can go here to get an idea.
What is the general code for remodeled or newly built residences in Northern Kentucky?
I wish there was a one stop shop for all counties but according to Scott each city varies. It’s best to call your local Building Codes department. For Kenton County, Kentucky you can start here. An inspection company like Pillar to Post is also a great resource for building code and home safety as well.