Have you ever wanted to add a cozy, extra unit to your property? Are you trying to find a solution for an unexpected multigenerational living situation? Do you have medical needs that are best served by in-home care? If so, you’re not alone. An increasingly popular way to address these needs is the use of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).
Welcome to the next article in my series on ADUs! If you’re not familiar with ADUs, they’re an option for addressing many housing needs, in our area and across the nation. For a more detailed look at what ADUs are, check out my earlier article. This month, we’re looking at what it takes to make your ADU dreams a reality.
So, you’ve decided your best solution is an ADU – what’s next? While the needs addressed by ADUs are everywhere, regulations are controlled at the municipal level here in PA. Basically, there are three ways a municipality’s zoning regulations can influence your ability to get an ADU. They might deny them outright, they might not have anything in place, or they might outline the process.
Let’s check out the options!
The first option, which is not entirely common yet problematic, involves regulations prohibiting ADUs. Some municipalities in our area have regulations limiting or banning the creation and use of ADUs. Some areas even have regulations preventing certain types of ADUs but not others. Sometimes the adage “it’s better to switch than to fight” is true and you might just have to move.
Many municipalities lack regulations addressing ADUs. The concept of ADUs is relatively new to our region and hasn’t quite caught on everywhere. In most areas, you can apply for special exceptions to zoning ordinances, and a few municipalities might even have precedents for how to handle such requests. Each municipality in Chester County brings their own nuance to their handling of zoning. While there’s no guarantee you’ll be granted a special exception, going about the process the wrong way is sure to result in problems.
Within the great diversity of our county, there are a few forward-looking municipalities that already have regulations addressing ADUs. Some of these regulations are motivated by the agricultural heritage of the area, while others are focused on addressing the contemporary housing needs of suburbia. East Brandywine Township has had regulations concerning auxiliary structures for years. Their regulations cover options ranging from tenant houses to the ADUs I discussed in my earlier article. Malvern, on the other hand, has more restrictive ADU regulations. Recently, the borough of West Chester adopted regulations governing ADUs.
Talking to and hiring the right professionals can save mountains of headache compared to trying to do it all on your own. Regardless of where you live, I recommend finding the following professionals to help turn your ADU dreams into reality:
- Real Estate Agent. A local real estate expert like myself can be invaluable when trying to find a home that can accommodate the creation of an ADU. I can work with you to review your municipality’s zoning code and get an understanding of your local situation. I can also talk with your municipality’s officials to gain better insight into their ADU approval process.
- Real Estate Lawyer. You’ll want a lawyer whose primary practice is in real estate law. To do business with your municipality, you’ll need a lawyer protecting your rights and advocating for you. With all the municipalities just within our county, it’s easy to see how having the right legal counsel can make all the difference.
- Architect and/or Engineer. With every ADU application, a detailed set of official plans and schematics will have to be submitted. An architect or engineer has the skills and qualifications to draft such plans.
- General Contractor. Regardless of style or type of ADU, a general contractor is likely to be needed. A qualified general contractor will manage all the subcontractors and regulations to get the job done right. Though the lawyer handles the zoning regulations, the general contractor handles the construction regulations.
Additionally, keep an eye out for proposed regulations in your municipality. With the increasing focus on housing needs, more and more municipalities are setting precedents for how ADUs will be handled. West Chester, for instance, recently adopted forward-looking regulations to get ahead of changing trends. Now is a great time to have an active voice in your local governance and set the future up for success.
Navigating the world of ADUs is complex, so thank you for making it through all this with me! This is my second full ADU article in my series. Next month, be on the lookout for a deeper delve into ADUs. If you know someone who is interested in learning more about ADUs, please share my articles with them! Ready to begin your ADU journey? Let’s chat and make your housing dreams a reality.