Low-cost rooms rented in Seoul should have a window. In case of fire

Seoul sets minimum living standards in gosiwons: rooms with minimum size and a window.

A goshiwon in Seoul
A “gosiwon” in an old-building of Seoul, where a fire killed seven people and injured 11 others in 2018. The lack of windows and small corridors made evacuation difficult | © Yonhap News

On January 4, Seoul Metropolitan Government announced it has promulgated an amendment to the Seoul Building Ordinance to improve living conditions in low-cost accommodation.

From July 1, any newly-built gosiwon in Seoul should have rooms no smaller than 7 square meters (75 sq ft), and at least 9m2 if rooms come with a private toilet. Rooms will also need a window to the exterior.

The regulation will also be enforced if a gowison has some repair or renovation, and any other work requiring a permit.

A gosiwon, or goshiwon, is a low-cost multi-living accommodation facility. Rooms are tiny, bathrooms and kitchens are usually shared. These packed dormitories were originally dedicated to Korean students. But it became more widely used as a form of permanent housing as real estate prices skyrocketed.

Gosiwons are mostly located in South Korea’s capital and its surroundings. More than half of Seoul’s gosiwon rooms are smaller than 7m2. Moreover, since rooms are often aligned one after the other, more than half of them do not have any windows with access to natural light.

Better living conditions and the possibility to escape a fire

In some districts of Seoul, a room of 5m2 with no toilet, shower or window can be rented for 200,000 won a month (US$167), Chosunilbo reports. A window cost 50,000 more ($42).

An exterior window will be required with a minimum size so that people can escape the building in case of fire.

Seoul Metropolitan Government’s amendment comes after a fire sparked in a gosiwon in the district of Jongno in 2018. Seven people died and 11 were injured because the evacuation was difficult with no windows in the rooms and narrow corridors in the building.

The city asked South Korea’s ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport to revise the law and establish minimum living standards. The ministry modified the Enforcement Decree of the Building Act in June 2021 and allowed local authorities to modify their regulations.

Some rules already prevent gosiwons from having rooms underground or require some other safety regulations like sprinklers. But many gowisons were built before the need for a sprinkler, as it was the case in Jongno in 2018 where there was no sprinkler in the building on fire.

Read more about South Korea

서울시, 7.1부터 신·증축 고시원 최소 공간 7㎡ 확보하고 창문 의무설치, Seoul government, January 2022, Free access

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