Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Accessory Apartments 101

Provo's central neighborhoods have a special piece of zoning called an "A" overlay which allows homeowners (who reside in their house) to rent out a portion of the home as an accessory apartment. Of course, there are rules, and I'd like to make sure that you know what some of these are.

The first of these is that having an accessory apartment requires the owner to fill out an application for a building permit with Provo's Community Development department. Your house may have had a basement apartment for 30 years, but if your house isn't a legal duplex, you need this permit if you want an accessory apartment. Thinking it is legal doesn't make it legal, and as far as the city is concerned, ignorance of the law isn't much of an excuse.

If your house has an existing apartment, the city will come out and do an inspection to see if your property meets a few important health and safety requirements. If it doesn't, they will give you a list of corrections that have to be taken care of to have your application approved. Some common corrections: (please note this is not a complete list)

  • Putting in Smoke detectors

  • Having GFCI outlets in the bathroom and kitchen

  • Having properly sized and positioned "egress" windows in all bedrooms.

  • Having 4 paved parking stalls

  • Having an "interior connection" between the apartment and the rest of the home

Part of the application is providing the city with a site plan of your property showing where new parking will go. You also have to have a floor plan for each floor of the house. The building permit application costs $50, and the permit lasts 6 months. It can be extended for another six months. Once you've finished all the corrections, another inspection has to take place to demonstrate that you've completed the required work.

Some issues are pretty much impossible to solve. One of those is Lot coverage. Under current zoning, only 25% of your back yard can be paved. So, if you are already at the limit, you won't be able to add more parking spaces. Another serious problem is ceiling height. 6 foot ceilings aren't going to fly.

There are some big differences between legal duplexes and accessory apartments. Legal duplexes have to have separate heating systems/controls. They usually have separate utility meters for Gas and electricity. They have to have "fire-walls" between the units. There aren't connections between the units. Houses with accessory apartments don't usually have separate heating systems/controls, and they usually don't have separate utility meters. They don't have to have "fire-walls."

If you own a legal duplex and rent out one of the units, you now must have a Rental Dwelling License. Homes with accessory apartments do not have to have a license, but they must be owner occupied.

In a few cases, I've seen neighborhood residents put an addition on their home in order to add an accessory apartment. While legal, this is a completely different matter, and the rules more complicated. Current building codes have to be met, and the applicant has to pay impact fees as a part of the building permit application.

There are pro's and con's to a neighborhood having accessory apartments, which we'll have to tackle another day. In the meanwhile, I encourage all of you that have a basement apartment to get things taken care of. Get a determination to find out if it is a Legal Duplex or an Accessory, and find out what needs to get fixed. Get the appropriate permit and/or Rental Dwelling License, and then quit worrying.