Granny flats are designed to be used as accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on the property of a single-family home or detached building.
These self-contained living spaces typically include a bedroom, bathroom and kitchenette; some models also come with storage space, laundry facilities and even enclosed private outdoor spaces for garden plots or pets.
ADUs can provide income-generating potential by meeting two key criteria: they must have independent access from the main house with separate meters for gas, electricity, water/sewer services; they must meet code requirements in terms of health, safety and structural soundness.
Some granny flats are specifically designed for elderly family members who need around-the-clock care but wish to maintain their independence while remaining in the family home.
Granny flats may be used as housing for the elderly, a teen who needs her own space or a live-in nanny. They can also be rented out to guests visiting from abroad or other renters who need a place to stay without committing to an entire house rental agreement.
The government has further encouraged the use of granny flats to ease urban overcrowding, which is especially acute in cities such as Hong Kong and London. This amendment increased the allowed total floor area for residential development on all land zoned as residential, commercial and industrial.
Most jurisdictions that allow granny flats have minimum setback requirements for protection of privacy and adequate access widths to ensure safe passage by emergency vehicles and pedestrians. Most also place limits on the types of renovations and structural changes that can be made to existing homes.
Currently, there are about 30 US states plus the District of Columbia where individuals who own a primary residence may build an ADU on their property without having to obtain special permitting or zoning requests.
This is also true of most provinces in Canada. Of course, homeowners should always check with local authorities to ensure they meet all relevant building and safety codes for this type of housing development.
Granny flats have become increasingly popular as young families decide to raise children in city centres where affordable family-sized housing is scarce. As such, some developers create specific designs meant for a multi-generational living – either by attaching two units side-by-side or transferring a primary residence into an attached or detached granny flat.
The number of people living in granny flats is expected to increase as they become more widely accepted, both as an affordable housing option and as a way to ease capacity issues for the aging population. Two-thirds of the world’s countries already allow such units on their property with official guidelines for development often found directly on government websites.
For those that do not, there are plenty of resources available online from reputable manufacturers and distributors who can help homeowners design, plan and construct granny flats to suit any need or purpose.
Not all zoning laws recognize ADUs and this has resulted in some interesting (and controversial) projects across North America meant to test regulation loopholes. In the US, a couple in Colorado has been allowed to construct a two-story granny flat under their deck rather than an attached structure on the property.
Another man in New York City created a separate apartment for his ex-wife by building a bunker underneath his garage and renting it out as housing without official inspection or permitting. In both cases, these homeowners have chosen to flaunt zoning laws with little repercussion from the government.
As more developments arise designed for convenience, affordability and independence regardless of age, those considering a life transition might consider a smaller living space that allows them increased freedom while saving money at the same time.