Adding a Mother-In-Law Apartment
Some homeowners are looking at mother-in-law apartments as a way to accommodate the needs of older family members or to generate additional income.
What is a "mother-in-law" apartment?
While exact definitions vary, in general "mother-in-law" apartments (sometimes called "accessory apartments") share these characteristics:
- a separate, secure entrance
- bedroom/personal living area
- private bathroom
- kitchen or kitchenette
Depending on the size of the apartment, the unit may include a living room in additional to the bedroom. Typically such units are not part of the original floor plan of the home, although in some rare cases houses are designed to incorporate separate smaller units.
Types of Units
There are a number of different "styles" of mother-in-law apartments, including:
- Basement units
- Second floor units
- First-floor add-ons
- Exterior buildings/guest houses
- Above-garage apartments (usually with a detached garage)
Attractions of the Accessory Apartment
Space for Relatives: For many homeowners, the thought of sending aging relatives to a retirement home or assisted living facility is tough to bear. The incredible financial expense associated with these options makes the decision that much more difficult. Many would prefer to take care of an aging parent or relative at home, and the ability to offer that relative a degree of privacy and independence is very appealing.
Additional Revenue Stream: While rents for mother-in-law apartments are typically lower than those found in more conventional apartment buildings, the income gained from renting out an accessory apartment can help with mortgage payments or bills. Remember that income from your rental unit is taxable, although you can deduct maintenance costs associated with the rental.
Guest Quarters: If not in use by a permanent tenant, accessory apartments can serve as a perfect extended guest room, providing friends or relatives from out of town with more privacy and space.
Resale Value: While not a home-run in terms of adding resale value, accessory apartments will be a selling point for certain buyers, and the presence of a mother-in-law can help set your home apart from similar properties in the market.
Things to Consider
Zoning & Permits: Neighborhoods zoned for single-family residences generally prohibit secondary units such as accessory apartments. Often these prohibitions are a result of fears that extra units will cause congestion, traffic, or increased load on public utility systems or community services. Check with city and/or county housing departments to see if mother-in-law apartments are allowed in your area. In some cases you may be able to obtain special exemptions depending on the situation.
If accessory units are permissible in your neighborhood, you will still need to apply for necessary housing permits and building/construction permits for any conversion work that you do. Converted spaces will also have to pass a building inspection, and if your neighborhood is governed by an association there may be additional rules and requirements restricting the changes that you're allowed to make.
Landlord/Tenant Laws: Obligations of the tenant and landlord should always be clearly defined in a rental contract. You should always research local landlord/tenant laws (and if possible, consult a real estate attorney) prior to starting any mother-in-law apartment project.
Insurance: The addition of a separate apartment unit may affect the rates for homeowner's insurance. It's also advisable to purchase liability insurance to protect against any damage or injury to your tenant or their property.
Parking: Do you have adequate parking for both your family and your tenant(s)? Are there local parking restrictions that may come into play?
Utilities: If you plan on using the unit as a rental, you'll need to contact your utility companies to have separate lines and meters for the apartment (unless, of course, you plan on paying for all utilities).
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