Local governance tips for mother-in-law apartments, tiny homes, and backyard casitas.
Updated March 31, 2023
With home prices skyrocketing these days (i.e. more than a 30% increase from 2020-2022), more people than ever are on the hunt for more affordable housing options. This is especially true in rural areas, which often are without high-density living options like apartment complexes and townhomes.
More and more homeowners today are thinking about redoing their basement, building an addition to their existing home or garage, or even putting up a seperate, miniature home in their backyard so they can support an aging relative, help an adult child save for a house, or just get someone else to help pay for their mortgage.
Since pressure to solve the housing affordability crisis in your community (at least in Utah) doesn’t look to let up anytime soon, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) could play a big part of the solution.
What Is An ADU?
An accessory dwelling unit is just that—an independent living space on a residential lot that is in addition to the primary dwelling unit. To count as an ADU, the space must have its own kitchen and bathroom facilities, entryway, in addition to its own designated on-site parking space(s).
These secondary dwelling units come in two forms: attached/internal accessory dwelling units and detached accessory dwelling units. The sole difference being whether or not they are physically connected to (or part of) the primary residence or a separate, detached structure. Recent changes by the Utah State Legislature regulates the two types of ADUs slightly differently, but the basic concepts are the same.
The following are common examples of accessory dwelling units:
- Mother-in-law apartments.
- Tiny homes (site built structures with 400 square feet of space or less).
- Habitable spaces built onto existing accessory structures.
These however, are not ADUs:
- Recreational vehicles (RVs) parked in driveways.
- Park model recreational vehicles (yes, they’re cute, but they are only designed and certified to be used as temporary living facilities and are not rated for full time use).
- Awesome treehouses (unless they have plumbing and a kitchen).
- Tents in backyards.
Note: For all the nitty gritties of making ADUs legal in your community, check out this free civiclinQ training.
The Pros And Cons Of ADUs
The main benefit to having ADUs in your community is that they help alleviate housing shortages—especially shortages of moderate-income housing options. ADUs can be priced lower than common multi-family housing units like townhomes and apartments, which expands the range of housing options available to community members.
Because of the nature of ADUs, they can be built in a fraction of the time that it takes to zone, plan, and construct traditional multi-family housing options. In fact, many homeowners already have rentable space on their property (like a mother-in-law apartment) that can be put on the market at a moment’s notice, and some structures come in a kit that can be assembled in a weekend. This means that ADUs can relieve housing pressure faster than almost anything else!
A second benefit to having ADUs in your community is that they are a potential source of income for residents. When permitted, ADUs are commonly used as “Airbnb”s or short-term rentals for tourists, vacationers, and business travelers.
That said, there are potential downsides to allowing ADUs in your community. For starters, ADUs may put strain on area resources like off-street parking capacity. In certain communities residential areas weren’t designed or constructed to support the addition of significant numbers of ADUs.
The other downside of ADUs is that they may decrease neighborhood appeal. Turning a residential neighborhood into a quasi-multifamily area means more transient renters, more cars parked on the street, and potentially more crowded or eyesore buildings.
Are ADUs Right For Your Community?
For many cities and towns, the key to ADUs is appropriate regulation. With the right standards in place, ADUs can be safe, productive, and a benefit to the community as a whole.
To make ADUs work, municipal leaders should design ordinances that respond to the housing needs and land use characteristics of their community then ensure those ordinances are added to the municipality’s code. When doing so, it’s important to known the bounds set by State law. For example, as of 2023, Utah municipalities are required to allow newly constructed internal ADUs that have a final plat approval dated on or after October 1, 2021, and are compliant with other land use regulations.
An Easy Way To Get it Right
You can try to find time in your crazy schedule to do an in-depth study of the economic and sociological factors driving housing in your area, then draft a few pages of legal ordinances for the Council to look over. Or you can take the path of least resistance, and let a professional study it out for you.
Totally up to you.
Call Rural Community Consultants today to get expert advice on municipal planning, administration, and ordinance advice to make your community the best it can be.
Want To Learn More?
Check out our online training modules! Note: Rural Community Consultants is able to provide access to specific training modules free of charge, courtesy of the Utah Office of the Property Rights Ombudsman.