The Rise Of Accessory Dwelling Units In The U.S. And Canada
While living in Petto’s parents’ basement, Petto Chan and Billy Leung spent many weekends looking for housing in the Vancouver area in order for them to live independently with their young daughter. With a budget of $800,000, they weren’t able to find anything suitable in the area, where houses start at about $1 million. They decided to put that money into building an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) on his parents’ property. This was the perfect location for the couple: close to work for Petto and with the ability to build a big kitchen for Billy, who teaches cooking classes.
ADUs are housing units that provide independent living with provisions for sleeping, cooking and sanitation, either attached or detached from the primary dwelling, but on the same parcel of land. They are called by a variety of names including granny-flats, in-law apartments, laneway houses and backyard cottages.
As seen with Billy and Petto, ADUs are a way for families to live close by while maintaining privacy and, in some areas, can be a source of added income. Adults sometimes build these for elder parents or adult children. Sometimes when parents decide to downsize, they move into the smaller dwelling and give the larger dwelling to their children with their growing families. Some people build the ADUs as an extra source of income – renting the ADU or living in the ADU and renting out the larger house.
Increasing density in low-density neighborhoods has been a challenge in many areas around the United States, as well as parts of Canada. Boomers want to stay in communities where they have brought up their children, but on fixed incomes may not be able to afford the rising costs. Millennials, facing student debt and stringent credit requirements, face difficulty finding a house they can afford close to their work and with good schools for their growing families.
The shortage of housing in some areas has put pressure on municipalities to allow ADUs. But these come with many restrictions depending on the area.
Where these units are permitted, there can be a variety of restrictions. Some areas only allow family members to live in the unit and in others, the primary homeowner must live in one of the two houses. There are restrictions on the minimum and maximum size of units, how many units are allowed on the property, how big the lot size must be and so on, depending on the municipality. Unlike tiny houses, they must meet the same regulations and codes as the primary residence. (Tiny houses are mobile and do not meet state and city codes.) In many cases the ADU must be sold with the original house.
In the past local ordinances prevented people from building ADUs, and some municipalities still do. New Hampshire passed an ordinance in 2017 to expand independent living facilities without further land development, in order to encourage the efficient use of the existing housing and to create affordable housing within communities
In 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills to promote the development of ADUs in California, which became effective January 1, 2018. This allowed ADUs to be built concurrently with the primary single-family residence along with easing parking restrictions and fees from utilities.
There are a multitude of laneway ADUs in Vancouver, BC. They were first approved in Vancouver in 2009 thanks to the city’s ecoDensity policy. More than 3,300 permits have been issued since the program was enacted in 2009.
ADUs offer an alternative type of housing for people who do not want to live in an apartment building but either cannot afford or do not need a full-size single-family house. It is likely that more towns and cities will begin to allow ADUs as the population expands and many people are seeking housing close to the cities.