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Accessory Apartments in Connecticut: What They are and How to Build One

Accessory Apartments in Connecticut: What They are and How to Build One

Granny flats, in-law cottages, laneway houses, accessory apartments—there are dozens of different names by which multigenerational housing units are known. Although such structures may look a little different depending on the format of your property in Connecticut, they more or less refer to the same thing: a second small dwelling on your property that is either attached to the main house or built separately.

An accessory house can provide a living space for an aging parent, an older child, a live-in caregiver, or visitors. The dwelling generally contains the same type of utilities and accommodations as traditional housing, including a kitchen, bedroom, private bathroom, living room and entrance. There are numerous environmental, financial, and lifestyle benefits to building an in-law cottage. One is that the unit is private and can be personalized for the needs of its distinct inhabitants while keeping them in close proximity to your family.

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Multigenerational Living in Connecticut

Multigenerational living is not a new concept. It has existed for many centuries, with some cultures embracing the concept more strongly than others. In the United States, the concept of accessory units decreased in popularity around the mid-20th century. Now, however, because of the rising cost of housing combined with diminishing inventory, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and similar apartments are seeing a resurgence in the U.S. An increasing number of older children are living with parents after high school to attend community college or while seeking employment. For other families, it’s a more cost-effective and desirable alternative for older adults than a nursing home or senior living community.

According to My Place CT, ADUs in Connecticut are considered part of the same property as the main home, whether or not they are attached. An accessory apartment can’t be sold or purchased separately—like condominiums or dwellings on wheels might be—unless the plot itself is officially divided.

Additionally, most municipalities in the state allow ADUs to be constructed easily if rent is not being paid. If the mother-in-law apartment is rented to a non-family member, however, you must abide by state landlord-tenant regulations.

How Much Does an Accessory Apartment Cost?

Although the concept is consistent, ADUs can be constructed in various formats. Some homeowners build a separate cottage or tiny house on a foundation in their yard. Others create an in-law unit as an apartment over their garage or by renovating a basement. You can also construct an accessory apartment as an addition to your existing home.

That’s why it’s difficult to say definitively how much it costs to build an in-law unit. The answer varies depending on how and where you are constructing the apartment. For example, converting an existing shed or barn into a livable dwelling is typically less expensive than building an entirely new structure.

One reason why ADUs may cost more than you expect is because they often contain the same features and components as a traditional dwelling. Also, you’re going to pay approximately the same amount per square foot as you would to build a larger home, but the cost for materials tends to be higher per unit if they are purchased in smaller quantities.

On the flip side, you don’t have to factor in the cost of land or hooking up new utilities as you’re building the apartment on your own existing property.

Typically, you pay out of pocket or with a loan for construction of an accessory apartment. However, the Connecticut Home Finance Authority also offers the Apartment Conversion for the Elderly (ACE) Program that provides access to low-interest loans for older adults to renovate their home to include an accessory apartment, according to My Place CT.

You can use an ACE loan to build an addition or convert a space in your house. The loan amount may not exceed 80% of the appraised value of your home, and the maximum amount of financing you can qualify for is $80,000. The funds are dispersed as work is completed. To be eligible, you must own a single-family home and be 62 or older, although the CHFA makes the final determination of eligibility.

How to Start Building an Accessory Apartment

In many ways, ADUs offer flexible housing for your family without you having to move as your needs and lifestyle changes. The question is, where do you start? Building an accessory apartment is a major construction project, even if you already have excess space you’re planning to convert. You’re likely looking at extensive plumbing, mechanical, and electrical work to make the dwelling fully functional and up to code.

The first step is reviewing various in-law apartment designs and deciding what is the best fit for your project. Designing the ideal ADU means factoring in who the primary—or at least first—users will be. For example, if you’re constructing a mother-in-law unit for an aging loved one, you probably don’t want to put in on the second story of your house, such as an apartment over the garage. A separate flat might be preferable.

The format of your property also influences your ADU design. Depending on the available acres, the local setback requirements, and where your plumbing and electric lines are located, you may need to build your accessory dwelling attached to your house or by converting an existing space rather than as a separate structure. 

Once you’ve settled on a general idea for the new dwelling, get in touch with your local building and zoning department to familiarize yourself with any rules and regulations pertaining to ADUs. You should also bring on a professional builder and architect to help you finalize your plans for the project.

With their expertise and experience, they can help you see the bigger picture and how your original concept could positively and negatively affect your property in the long run. They may also have in-law apartment ideas they’ve gathered from completing similar projects in the past. Working alongside you, they can take your vision and goals and translate them into a feasible and cost-effective design plan.

The next step is acquiring the necessary permits and meeting with your builder to confirm a construction timeline and the estimated cost of the project. They also will ensure the necessary architectural, plumbing, electrical, mechanical and structural elements are addressed in the plans before breaking ground on the construction of your new ADU. Construction time itself will vary based on the complexity of the project and the availability of your contractor.

Creating an Accessory Apartment in Connecticut

Making your property more supportive of multigenerational living provides several social, environmental and financial benefits for you and your family. Adding an accessory dwelling to your property in Connecticut is a complex project, so working with a professional builder is the best way to ensure a smooth, efficient process. Sunwood Development has experience with a variety of home additions and remodels and can help you optimize the versatility of your property with the right type of ADU.

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