Have you ever rented the unit in someone’s basement? Maybe your spouse’s mother moved into your “Mother-In-Law Unit” above your garage? Or have you ever travelled and stayed in a pool house for your stay? Commonly referred to as “Mother-In-Law” units, homeowners use these as a way to fill the space in their home and gain residual income, either from vacationers or long-term tenants.
The official terms for these units are Additional Dwelling Units (ADU) or Detached Additional Dwelling Units (DADU’s), and are defined as extra spaces in homes and on properties where someone can live completely independent of the main house.
These units can be almost anywhere on the property, but they are usually located in the basement, in the backyard, or above the garage. They have their own bathroom and kitchen facilities, and sometimes they share laundry with the main house.
Thinking of adding a unit to your home? Here are some benefits and risks, as well as important aspects to consider before you build:
Homeowners can maximize their investment by renting out the extra space to long-term tenants for short-term vacationers. These tenants can help pay off debt or create an extra stream of income to pay for other needs or wants.
Depending on several factors, including the size of the unit, the market in the area, and other factors, each homeowner should decide which option they are more comfortable with. These decisions should be made before they list the unit for rent to best market to the right audience.
An obvious risk is that when you open your space to a stranger, there’s a possibility that things might end poorly. Either the tenants could turn out to be untrustworthy, or unreliable, leading to a financial burden.
To minimize the risks, it’s a good idea to use an application process to check backgrounds and employment history as a tool to get to know the potential tenant. Make sure to adhere to the National Fair Housing Laws and your local regulations.
Things to Consider:
- What are the shared spaces?
- Would you be comfortable sharing those spaces, and potentially appliances, with a new person each weekend, or would you rather get to know the long-term tenant who would use those on a consistent basis?
- Rooms like the kitchen can be great for those who want to get more interaction from their vacation renters. However, sharing one bathroom between the homeowners and the visitors can be uncomfortable and risky.
- Would you be okay with a long-term renter using your laundry facilities? What kind of access would they need to the house in order to use those machines?
- What is the size of the ADU/DADU?
- Is it truly a space where someone could live, or would it be too tight to fit all the necessary appliances?
- Does the unit adhere to your local housing codes as a livable space?
- How close are the units and what noise level are you comfortable with?
- As a long-term landlord, tenants have the right to quiet enjoyment without the landlord barging into their space or controlling their activities. If the unit is in the basement and the tenant has friends or family over, that noise could permeate into your unit in the late hours of the night. A way to prevent this is to be sure to layout quiet hours and expectations before they sign the lease or make an agreement so that you and the tenant are on the same page.
- The same goes for the rules in the vacation rental listing. Managing expectations is the first way to create a relationship with the tenants, even those there for the weekend.
- What improvements are required to make the unit livable?
- Do you need to add a kitchen or a bathroom? What are the costs associated with those improvements and would the market-rate rental prices make up for those improvements? You might not get your money back within the year, but if you’re dedicated to making the space worth it to rent it out over the next few years, these improvements, and financial obligations are necessary.
- If these initial investments aren’t viable for your situation, it might be a good idea to look at other options to earn rent from your home, including adding roommates with whom you’re willing to share all the common spaces.
Whatever you decide, it’s important to be familiar with the rental market and regulations in both your local region and your neighborhood.
Do you have an ADU or DADU on your property? How do you use it? Let us know in the comments.
Ipod and water bottle in hand, Dave strolls down a flower lined path toward his first destination of the morning, his gym. At the door to the gym, he is greeted by his wife, Janet. Janet takes a sip of her latte, gives Dave a kiss and tells him she’s off to the studio. While Dave is turning on some music and contemplating how many miles he’ll put on the treadmill today, Janet walks up a staircase to her studio.
The kiln in the corner warms the studio from the chill of the rainy night before. Janet hangs her coat and inspects yesterday’s creations on the drying rack. In her mind, she’s sizing up what glaze and design she’ll use for each piece. Dave will head to his office on the other side of the building after his workout.
Depending upon where you live, you might have your own vision of this scene. Perhaps it’s a downtown building that has ground level shops, like a gym, and small spaces upstairs for rent, like a studio. Maybe an office park in the suburbs. Perhaps even a co-op village. For Dave and Janet, though, the gym and studio are in a part of their backyard that used to be home to a jungle gym, sandbox and 4-square court. When they became empty nesters, they decided to consolidate their life, cut commuting expenses, and take advantage of some unused space at home. They created a two story, backyard cottage that had a gym, bath and shower, and kitchenette on the ground floor, as well as side-by-side offices on the upper level. Dave, rather than a kiln and pottery supplies, has a desk and display of catalogues that he will use in presentations when clients visit him.
Backyard cottages have been gaining in popularity and attention lately. With the changes in the housing market making it impractical to sell some homes, possibly gas prices making long commutes impractical, or maybe the desire to simplify a life that’s been too removed from home, its’ easy to see why someone might choose to build one. Many people build them to be guest quarters, mother-in-law apartments, a rental unit for additional monthly revenue, or temporary lodging for boomerang offspring who are trying to land that first job out of college. Some of these are as simply built as a miniature starter home, and yet others are elegantly equipped as a five-star hotel.
To maximize the value of these buildings, they should be planned by an architect so that they will work for your intended use. In the example, Janet’s kiln would be heavy and very hot, so several building precautions would be warranted. One short cut to avoid would be to do anything less than fully permitted and inspected, as failure there can cost far more than the property tax levy to take care of later. It’s advised that unless you have lots of experience, have the riskier tasks done by subcontractors.
These buildings will add value to the homeowner’s property over time, as if they are built properly, they’ll appreciate in conjunction with the value of the home. The reasons for having one are many and personal, but if you were to drive down many city streets, you will find one hiding under the trees in a corner of the backyard.
Can you see a point of your life, and a place on your property, in which a backyard cottage would make sense?
By Eric Johnson, Director of Education
Johnson has several years experience as a real estate agent and real estate instructor, as well as experience in construction project management, digital media/publishing and insurance. He has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from University of Colorado.