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How To Add an In Law Suite to Your Home in Nashville

We get asked all of the time about In Law Suites. Nashville has been growing so fast, that many home owners and investors are considering the opportunities associated with Accessory Dwellings and potential Rentals for extra income and to fill a pent up market demand in our growing city . The funny thing is that there are so many names of these apartment style units! Just check out The Many and Confusing Synonyms for ADUs. (Accessory Dwelling Units) Mother-in-law Suites, Granny flats, Cottages, and Above the Garage Apartments, are all in our vocabulary. Below is a recent case study on how to incorporate an in law suite to your home and benefit from the added space and opportunity.

Does My Zoning Allow an In Law Suite?

Before you start planning too much, we need to check out the current zoning of your home and learn about the guidelines that dictate what  you can and cannot do with your property. Important factors that could stop you dead in your tracks include setback requirements, size and square footage limitations, heights, historic overlays, and fire protection, are just to name a few. If you are hoping to operate a formal rental such as an apartment or VRBO, you would also want to look into any permitting requirements to ensure you can do so legally. You wouldn’t believe all of the VRBO permit issues investors in Nashville are having right now. Phew~

One of our partner Real Estate colleagues Chuck Paetz and his wife Holly approached us about converting their garage and workshop into a formal In Law suite for Holly’s parents to move. This is becoming a fast new trend as people are seeking more and more connectivity in their lives while prices of totally autonomous living quarters are also becoming more expensive. It makes sense to pair down and live together. You can look after loved ones, have a guest house for company to stay with you more regularly, or offset your mortgage with a tenant and/or friend. Later, when you sell, you have a valuable, rentable asset that provides more space and options to attract more Buyers.

For the Paetz’s Pool House Remodel, the original garage had an outhouse and work shed attached. We started calling it a “Pool House” as it sounds more appealing that “In Law Quarters”, and helps to set the stage for the design and treating this as something that deserves care and consideration as a long term addition to the property. A “Pool House” has a direction it can go, and according to codes, that was only in one direction due to setbacks, lot lines, and easements on the property. See below Southern Athena project site plan required by Codes.

How to Go Through a Davidson County BZA Zoning Appeals Process for an Addition

Sometimes you will find the current zoning and code doesn’t work well with your property. For instance, the Paetz’s property had a large house, pool, garage, outhouse, workshops, decks, and other architectural items that prohibited adding on in certain ways. We also found out during our permitting research at Codes, that a portion of the property was non-conforming and may have been built without permits. Whoops. And we couldn’t reasonably fit the in laws into too small of a unit, or lose parking space.

Note: If you are seriously considering moving any older generation into your home, then making sure they have accessibility is paramount. Simple design considerations such as one level, visibility, high toilet seats, non-slip flooring, and 3′ doors and aisles will help tremendously if there are ever mobility issues down the line. My aunt has had MS for most of my life, and I know first hand how some key decisions for you and your loved ones can make a world of difference in everyones’ quality of life.

We ended up finding out that in order for this remodel and addition to be completed legally, the Paetz’s would have to file an appeal to the current zoning code. We prepared the site plans and worked with Preferred Vendor: Justin Crandall, Owner of Builder Assist, and the metro codes department to submit the Appeal application to appeal setback limitations on the site and setback limitations between the primary dwelling structure and secondary accessory structure.

And, We Won the Zoning Appeal! Game on!

Things to Know When Filing a BZA (Board of Zoning Appeal):

  • There are a limited amounts of Application Hearings per year. This is something you have to get on your calendar and prepare your application prior to the meeting deadline. *About a Month in Advance* You will need to submit a Site Plan showing the appeal like the sample above.
  • You need to know what you are appealing, duh, but we understand a lot of codes don’t make a lot of sense. And as it stands government documentation and information can be hard to find, decipher, conflict, and downright be inaccessible. We can help with this.
  • That’s why you Need to go down to Codes and talk through your plan with a codes examiner and find any limitations to what you are proposing. Get Clear Direction! They can tell you everything you need to know and make your life a lot easier or more difficult. In the Paetzs’ case, we ended up having to do some redesign after talking through our options with our codes reviewer, Richard.
  • Once the Public Notice portion of the Appeal starts, you have to hold a “public hearing” and prove you have made the appeal accessible to a certain number of residences within a certain geographical area. (We needed 100+ for this project) For the Paetz’s, they spoke with their neighbors on all sides, posted in Nextdoor Nashville, and even had to mail out a flyer informing neighbors about the plan to gauge support or opposition. Just another tried and true reason to follow #SouthernAthenaTips #5. We do!
  • You need your Councilman or Councilwoman’s support! Hands down the BIGGEST, most important item on this list. You must get in front of your council person now and gain their support. They can choose to single handedly approve or deny your request, and 9 times out of 10, the BZA will go with whatever your council member advises. The councilman for this district didn’t think he needed to spend time reviewing the application prior to the meeting, and the Paetz Pool House Remodel application was deferred for 2 more weeks to give the councilman time to submit an opinion.
  • Come prepared for support and opposition. Neighbors have time to speak on your behalf or against you at the hearing process. Some people even bring attorneys to ensure the appeal meets all legal rights of the client under other parts of the law.
  • Come prepared with the facts, and figures. It will be on you to make your Appeal appealing to the BZA and to get approval.

Designing Your In Law Suite

Once you know you can have an accessory living unit, or 2nd home on your site, then things get a little easier. Now is the time to design your unit for your goals. We suggest Downloading our Southern Athena Home Design Checklist to get clear on your goals and objectives for the project, and check off the elements you want incorporated in the unit. Then it’s time for the magic.

Sample In Law Suite Specific Design Programs to Consider:

  • Attached or Detached (Fire separation rating needed if attached)
  • Size and Price
  • Primary User Age Group and their needs (Kids, Teens, Adults, Elderly, Mixed)
  • Future User Opportunities ie. Resale, Guest House, Office, Rental
  • Privacy in Proximity to Existing Structures
  • Primary Objective and Goal ie. Add Rental Income, Value for Family, Capitalize on Unused space, etc.
  • Construction and Move In Deadlines
  • Structure, Sewer, Heating, Cooling, Plumbing, and Electrical for separate unit
  • Site work and Accessibility

For this project we needed to keep Holly’s parents in mind for the design. Larger furniture sizes coming from their current home, amounts of storage needed from downsizing, and accessibility were all top of mind. Not to mention autonomy between the two so each part of the family could continue to feel independent while being so close together.

Price and scope of work were also big considerations as Chuck would be bidding and completing most of the work himself through his connections and know how of being a GC in years past. A homeowner can pull Residential Remodel permits in Davidson county if the work does not exceed $25K fairly easily. If your project is larger, or you are not super handy, you likely need and want a GC. According to ours, in todays market summer 2018, you should budget between $100 – 150 / SF for your Remodel.

The Paetz’s had already research Prefab and Tiny Homes and needed their project to be significantly cheaper than either, and reuse the existing systems in place. Chuck was also going to have to spend weeks cleaning out the garage, his workshop, tear down a non conforming shed, and find a place for all of his stuff in the move. We feel for ya Chuck! Sounds awful in 95+ degree heat!

We were able to save significant costs for our client through our love of design efficiency. Our proposed layout incorporated reusing existing door and window headers, plumbing locations, walls, and rafter slope. We minimized demolition, including slab for running the new drains, and maximized utilizing standard sizes for other elements, such as doors and windows, and reusing existing infrastructure.

Our Preferred Vendor discounts also saved the client a ton of money on the newer construction and materials. Ask us about how you can work with us to get insights to make your project more cost effective and capitalize on our VIP client development discounts.

If you like the Renderings in our Gallery, or want to see how your project can come to life through our Architecture services, check out our Portfolio and Architecture Service Packages.