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    What is an Accessory Dwelling Unit and is it Right for Your Property?

    Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)

    An accessory dwelling unit (or ADU) is an additional, free-standing structure that is secondary to a primary dwelling unit at a property. An ADU can either be attached by a wall with the primary unit or completely detached from it. A third kind is called an ‘interior ADU’ which refers to an ADU within the primary dwelling unit e.g. in an attic or a basement.

    Why are ADUs beneficial?

    ADUs provide a good solution to housing problems faced by low-income households. In addition, they also provide supplementary means of earning for homeowners or an opportunity to keep their old-age relatives or children in close proximity. Hence the common name for an ADU, ‘granny-flat’ or ‘mother-in-law suite’.

    Keep reading to learn all about the latest laws and regulations that you have to abide by as Washington, DC residents to build or operate an ADU on your property, as well as recently developed zoning regulations of the District of Columbia that need to be followed in order to have one.

    Requirements for ADUs in Washington D.C.

    There are a number of standard ADU requirements that must be followed by everyone owning or thinking to build an ADU on their property. Some of the key requirements are:

    • No more than 3 people can inhabit an ADU.
    • The owner of the property must reside either in the primary unit or the accessory unit for at least 6 months of a year.
    • An interior, as well as a detached ADU on the same property, are not allowed.
    • No more than 3 unrelated people can occupy an ADU. However, if the intended occupants are related then the number can be as many as possible.
    • An ADU must not have a completely separate entrance on the property as if to give an impression of a separate principle unit.
    • The ADU should meet the gross cover area requirements set by city authority which is about 300 and 800 square feet of floor area. An ADU must not cover more than 40% of the entire property.
    • Property owners will be required to obtain a Residential Rental Business License from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs if they wish to rent out their ADU.

    Zoning regulations for Accessory Dwelling Units in D.C.

    There are three main residential zones in DC. Residential (R) zones, residential flat (RF) zones, and residential apartment (RA) zones. In September 2016, D.C. zoning code was revised and ADUs were made a matter-of-right for homeowners in R zones. Now, as a DC resident, you do not require special permission to construct an ADU on your property. With exception of residential zones R-19 and R-20, this rule applies to all the remaining R zones of District of Columbia. However, for the RF and RA zones, a second dwelling unit built relative to the main building will not be an ADU but a primary unit itself.

    The new DC zoning laws have made the construction and operation of ADUs much convenient for homeowners. Before these revisions, it seemed a really difficult task to build an ADU. However, there are still a number of regulations that you must meet in order to successfully start an ADU construction on your property. An ADU can be a great choice for you if you are a first-time homebuyer or have limited income sources. And if you are a homeowner, an ADU can prove to be a sustainable means of income for you.

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