Accessory Units

Accessory units can allow your loved one to maintain his or her privacy and independence while living close enough for you to provide needed care.

Having Your Loved One Close And Independent

If your loved one is still basically independent, but you both worry about his or her ability to live alone, you might want to consider building an accessory unit. Accessory units are private housing arrangements in, or adjacent to, existing single-family homes. There are two types:

  • Accessory Apartments, created within single-family homes, are complete living units including a private kitchen and bath.
  • Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity (ECHO) Units are complete, portable, small homes installed in back or side yards of single-family house lots.

Advantages Of An Accessory Unit

  • A source of affordable housing.
  • Upgrades and improves the existing property.
  • Makes efficient use of land and existing infrastructure.
  • Encourages economic and personal support between two separate households.

Disadvantages Of An Accessory Unit

  • Legal restrictions:
    • Zoning Ordinances—Explore with local zoning commission the procedure for securing a “conditional” or “special use” permit.
    • Covenants—These conditions written into deeds are generally difficult to change and costly to fight.
  • Neighbors may object to a multifamily setting.
    • Inform neighbors and neighborhood associations about your building plans.
    • Meet with local officials and neighbors to address concerns.
  • Cost and tax issues:
    • Determine the economic feasibility and availability of home remodeling loans with your accountant or bank loan officer.
    • Consult with a tax advisor to determine the impact an accessory unit will have on your tax situation or eligibility for public programs.
    • Total general costs for accessory apartments can be $20,000 or more.
    • ECHO units may cost $30,000 or more.

Plan Before You Build

Building an accessory unit involves a fair amount of time, planning, and expense. Consider taking the following steps:

  • Determine whether your home can be modified to install an apartment or whether your lot has adequate space for an ECHO unit.
  • Ask yourself these questions:
    • Is the unit legal in my jurisdiction?
    • What regulations and upgrades will have to be met?
    • How do I apply for the necessary permits?
    • Can I afford the time and expenses for the application and building process?
  • Once you decide to hire a contractor:
    • Get recommendations from friends.
    • Ensure that the contractor is licensed and bonded.
    • Check the contractor’s performance record.
    • Ask for a written agreement with a small down payment.
    • Make the final payment only after the project is completed.

© Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Adapted from Housing Highlights: Accessory Units prepared by the Administration on Aging from materials developed by the National Eldercare Institute on Housing and Supportive Services, Andrus Gerontology Center, University of Southern California.

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