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More Cities Are Permitting In-Law Units

August 22, 2011

From USA Today – Cities see them as a way to expand affordable housing options while promoting smart growth. More are passing rules to make it easier to build second units, also called accessory dwelling units or ADUs.

Many of the laws are modeled after one advocated by the AARP and passed by Santa Cruz, Calif., in 2003 that prompted other cities in California and the Pacific Northwest to follow. Seattle began allowing detached backyard cottages in December 2009, and it received permit applications for 55 of them last year, plus 96 for attached units.

But it’s not just a phenomenon on the West Coast. ADU laws have recently passed in many places in the East, including Virginia’s Arlington and Fairfax counties, and elsewhere.

In June, Denver revised its housing code to allow second units, and in July, Hudson, Wis., gave the nod to garage apartments.

“It’s very widespread,” says Michael Litchfield, author of a book, In-Laws, Outlaws and Granny Flats, who lives in an in-law suite with 12-foot ceilings and quarry-tile floors in Point Reyes, Calif.

He says many of these units are converted garages, attics, unused rooms or basements, while others are additions or detached cottages.

He surmises that most are illegal, citing the time and money involved to get permits.

“There are a lot of these, but we don’t have (Census) data,” says Arthur Nelson, director of the University of Utah’s Metropolitan Research Center. “People are doubling up, even tripling up,” he says, because of tight budgets or economic worries.

Also spurring second units, Litchfield adds, is the “growing awareness of smart growth” and the environmental benefits of urban density and smaller homes.

“It’s a way of absorbing more people and growth without changing the nature of the neighborhood” and adding to sprawl, says Kaid Benfield of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

In-law suites have retained their popularity, unlike most single-use rooms, says Kermit Baker, who analyzes quarterly home surveys as chief economist of the American Institute of Architects. He says they reflect…to read the rest of this story, please click here.

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