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Is an ADU for You?


Written by Jaymi Naciri
Sunday, April 05, 2020

Whether you call them granny flats, in-law units, tiny homes, or carriage houses, accessory dwelling units (ADU) aren’t going anywhere. Except, possibly, in your (or your child’s) backyard.

Is an ADU the answer to the dilemma of where you’re going to live during your retirement years? Or where to move your parent who wants his or her own space close to you? That’s the idea that’s intriguing many across the country.

So, what do you need to know about ADUs? We’re breaking it all down below.

Are they easy to build?

You would think so, given their small size and the fact that, presumably, they are being built on land you already own. States like California have passed laws to make them easier to build, resulting in tremendous growth. "At the start of 2017, a California state law went into effect that forced cities to relax their regulations on basement suites, garage apartments, and backyard cottages—known collectively as accessory dwelling units (ADUs),” said Sightline Institute. “Two years later, building permits for ADUs in Los Angeles have surged by a factor of 30—yes, 30!—comprising a whopping one fifth of permits issued for all homes.”

However, not every state or municipality is quite so progressive. “Barriers to the growth of granny flats include municipal statutes, zoning laws, building restrictions, neighborhood covenants, and other regulations,” said The Spruce. “New construction is more expensive as well, and homeowners may find it difficult to get financing. Connecting utilities can also be expensive. Some municipalities require that driveways and/or off-street parking be provided for the granny flat occupant, and that can add expense, or be completely unfeasible for certain properties.”

Cost

Speaking of cost, part of the allure of an ADU is how affordable it is in comparison to a typical single-family residence. But it’s still in investment. “A legal accessory dwelling unit which includes a kitchen and bathroom, costs typically start at $80,000 and quickly move up from there,” said Maxable. “For a stand-alone accessory dwelling unit expect the cost to start at $150,000 and increase from there.”

The cost of construction isn’t all there is, however. “Homeowners are often shocked at the cost of permitting, which is why there are so many illegal accessory dwelling units out there. In some cities, where development and impact fees for this type of construction has not been waived, homeowners can expect to pay upwards of 20K in fees.”

That includes impact fees, which cities charge homebuilders to assist in paying for things like schools, parks, and roads. “In Washington, for example, depending on what city you live in, so-called impact fees alone might total as much as $9,000,” said Sightline Institute.

Another word on regulations

Regardless of the legality in certain areas, there are those other restrictions that may make it challenging to build an ADU on a specific property. Specifically, zoning restrictions can limit what you can do with your ADU, where you build it, and even who can live inside.

“Many cities and counties permit ADUs in one or more single-family zoning districts by right, subject to use-specific standards,” said the American Planning Association (APA). “Common provisions include an owner-occupancy requirement (for one of the two dwellings), dimensional and design standards to ensure neighborhood compatibility, and off-street parking requirements. Other relatively common provisions include minimum lot sizes and limits on the number of occupants or bedrooms. While some codes also include occupancy restrictions that stipulate that ADUs can only house family members or domestic employees, this type of restriction can severely limit the potential for ADUs to address a shortage of rental housing.”

Before you move ahead with plans for an ADU on your property, check with your state and local authorities. “In some states, localities must permit ADUs by right, under certain conditions. In some others, state laws preempt some aspects of local zoning for ADUs or actively encourage cities and counties to adopt permissive zoning regulations for ADUs.”



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