At a time when many adults are needing to take care of their aging parents, and conversely when aging parents want to be closer to their families and grandchildren, a solution that is becoming quite popular is the auxiliary dwelling unit (“ADU”), tiny home, transitional home, or granny-pod – various names for essentially the same approach and solution.
This is a small, self-contained home – typically just a few hundred square feet on one level that is extremely accessible and user-friendly – that is located in the backyard of an existing home. It also can be a garage apartment when accommodations are made for creating a living area on the main floor or installing an elevator to a loft or second level. The actual design and configuration of the home is less of a concern that the concept itself.
One of the biggest challenges to implementing this strategy and having it be a viable alternative for families that do not have space in their homes but want their parents nearby is local zoning and building ordinances, but many of them are beginning to change to accommodate this result.
Typically, zoning and building requirements – and homeowner association deeds, covenants, and restrictions of various sorts – stipulate how close to the property line (setbacks) buildings (even auxiliary or accessory buildings) can be placed, how much distance there must be between adjacent structures, how many people can occupy a residence, how many bedrooms there must be at a minimum for occupancy, and how many separate inhabitable structures can exist on a single building lot or residential property.
As a solution, the ADU offers many advantages. First, the main dwelling does not to be modified in anyway unless the occupants want to redo their hall or secondary bathroom to facilitate access when their parents are visiting them from across the backyard. This is a visitability issue also for others besides the parents.
Second, it gives the parents or other elderly relatives (uncles, aunts or siblings) complete freedom to be on their own but nearby.
Third, it allows the occupants of the main home to have visual contact and supervision of their parents or relatives that are occupying the ADU and to check on them periodically throughout the day.
Lastly, the ADU can serve many other useful purposes when it is not needed for housing the parents. It can become a rental apartment – subject to local codes allowing this practice, a playroom for the kids, a den, a workshop, a home office, a studio, a media center, or a fitness center. It could also be removed.
This can provide a quick and indefinite solution to moving parents or other loved ones onto the property and still letting them have their independence – many times at a fraction of the cost of doing a major remodel of the main dwelling to redo bathrooms, hallways, and entrances and provide new or reconfigured sleeping areas.
It’s time for regulating agencies to get on board and recognize the value of ADUs and similar structures as solutions for aging in place.