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Should You Build a Mother-in-Law Suite? Here are Some Important Factors to Consider Before Biting the Bullet

In-law suites have been popular in homes for decades, and are becoming even more popular day by day. Basically, what a mother in law suite is, is a small secondary building on your property, traditionally used either as a guest house or a scaled-down home for elderly relatives. 

Due to our uncertain economy and the fact that many people have become responsible for caring for an aging parent, these additions are becoming more popular than ever. In-law suites can also be an excellent source of income if rented out, especially for people who need additional cash flow in retirement. For parents, building an in-law suite can allow them to offer a helping hand to a grown child’s family without having to move themselves.

They’ll be right on hand to enjoy spending plenty of time with grandchildren, and to help out with babysitting when needed. For those whose elderly parents can no longer manage living alone, in-law suites offer a way to let your parents live with you without having to sacrifice their privacy and independence.

In-law suites consistently add value to the properties they’re built on. If you’ve considered adding one, it’s probably one of the best investments you could make in your home, as well as having plenty of practical benefits. However, before you begin building an in-law suite, there are several things you should know. There are several different types of secondary dwellings, and the laws may differ for each from county to county. The basic types of secondary dwellings are: 

• An apartment over a garage
• A basement apartment
• A unit attached to the main house
• A unit detached from the main house

The type of secondary dwelling you build will, of course, depend on many factors. If your property is relatively small, a garage or basement apartment is probably best, since they won’t take up additional space. However, if you’re building an in-law suite to house an elderly relative, a basement or garage apartment probably won’t work, since your relative would likely have difficulty with the stairs necessary to enter and exit and/or access shared areas.

If you have a limited construction budget, a garage or basement apartment might be best, since you don’t have to build an entirely new structure, only update an existing space. If you’re planning to move an elderly parent or yourself into your new in-law suite, you’ll also want to consider the fact that this will likely require you to do some significant downsizing to enable you or them to live comfortably in a smaller space. 

If you’re planning to rent your secondary dwelling, as you decide what type to build you’ll want to consider where your tenant will park, whether you’ll allow them to use your laundry facilities, whether you will be furnishing the apartment and/or providing appliances, in addition to how well appointed it should be for the rent you plan to charge.

Secondary dwellings are looked on favorably because they offer an easy and practical way to broaden the tax base, while also alleviating problems like housing shortages and the hardships of elder care. However, while most municipalities do allow homeowners to build a secondary dwelling on their property, there are, of course, many zoning laws to take into consideration before you draw up your plans.

In most cases, secondary dwellings must have access to off-street parking. In nearly all cases, secondary dwellings must have water and sewer systems that are separate from the main house. They must also have access to a septic system, although this can generally be shared with the main house, provided the system can handle the addition. 

Some secondary dwellings must have a locking door separating it from the main house and its own outside entrance. Some areas may limit who can live in a secondary dwelling. For example, only relatives of the homeowner, only a single tenant, etc. However, in most cases, the owner of the property must continue to live on the property, whether in the main house or the secondary dwelling. You cannot move away and rent out both buildings.

So, when making the decision to build an in-law suite, be aware that some of your neighbors may protest. However, as long as you’ve obeyed all the appropriate zoning laws there’s not much they can do other than give you the cold shoulder.


2 thoughts on “Should You Build a Mother-in-Law Suite? Here are Some Important Factors to Consider Before Biting the Bullet

  1. Nancy

    I think anyone should add a garage if they have the space. Once you have one, you'll never be able to live in a house without one again. They're extremely convenient. If you have the money and the space, I'd definitely say build an attachment for a garage.

  2. Patricia

    I think a great reason to build an addition is to have a guest house. There's almost nothing better than one. Especially if you have children. When they get older, one of them can move out there. Kids love that and attic lofts.


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