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Municipal zoning regulation & the rising popularity of "in law apartments"

Posted by Diane M. Lord | Feb 12, 2014 | 0 Comments

If your mother and/or father or other family member no longer wish to maintain a separate residence but are not ready, financially or otherwise, for assisted living, you may be considering converting part of your home for them to live in. Before you make any plans for a conversion, you need to be aware of your local zoning requirements. 

Commonly referred to as in-law apartments, accessory apartments are subject to various conditions found municipal zoning regulations. Although every municipality has its own set of zoning regulations for accessory apartments, there are some common rules.

Zoning regulations will generally limit the floor area of an accessory apartment. Usually the limit is a percentage of the existing dwelling. Thirty to forty percent is typical. The regulations may also require that one of the living units is owner-occupied and many municipalities will only allow accessory apartments for persons related by blood, marriage or adoption. Some municipalities do not permit accessory apartments in single family districts.

Since accessory apartments are generally constructed in single family districts, regulations normally require that the residence maintain its single family appearance. This means that you may not be permitted to add another entrance to the front of the existing home and you may not be permitted to have separate utilities, separate addresses or separate mailboxes.  Many municipalities also require access from the main residence to the accessory apartment from within the residence.

Local zoning regulations regarding accessory apartments may also have provisions for additional parking requirements, a limit on the number of bedrooms and some municipalities even restrict the amount that may be charged for rent.   

In addition, municipalities will require a building permit and some require approval by their planning and/or zoning commission or zoning board of appeals before you can construct an accessory apartment. The permit may have an expiration date requiring renewals on a periodic basis.

So, before you hire a contractor, or pick up a hammer, you will need to review your town's zoning regulations to make sure your plans comply with the requirements.

About the Author

Diane M. Lord

Diane Lord started her legal career in 1985. Over the years she has concentrated in various legal fields including estate planning, construction law, landlord/tenant disputes and worker's compensation. A major part of Diane's practice involves the representation of both homeowners and developers in all aspects of planning and zoning law.

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