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Kim Rice, Real Estate Pro in Chicago, IL

Does anyone know exactly how Chicago defines a coach house?

Asked by Kim Rice, Chicago, IL Mon Aug 13, 2012

My property has a front single family home and I live in the back single family home, which we've referred to as a coach house. However, it has no garage and is essentially its own free structure with a parking pad behind it. I would like to build an addition to the back house, and zoning, looking at our survey, photos and our hand drawn renderings of what we want seemed to be okay with it, until we said the word "coach house" at which time they shut us down and said no changes can be made to coach houses. End of story. I would like to figure out if by the very nature of having two single family homes on one lot makes ours a coach house, of if a coach house has to have any specific features. Thanks so much for anyone's feedback!

Help the community by answering this question:


Hi Kim,

I've been a Chicago Realtor for over 15 years and a coach house owner for the past 20 years. Several years ago, I renovated my coach house, however I did not add any square footage. In the current Chicago building code, you cannot expand a coach house. The reason is coach houses may not be built any longer in Chicago. Existing coach houses are grandfathered in the law.
If you have a building in the front of the property, and a second residential building in the back of the property, then the second building is a coach house.
2 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Aug 13, 2012
Hey Joe,
Do you know of any websites that have more info on what you were talking about?
I heard that square footage cannot be expanded already, just wondering what kind of renovations CAN be done to an old coach. I'm assuming its very limited in a neighborhood like Wicker Park because of landmark status but I've just been researching and its pretty hard to find info on it.
Flag Sun Oct 19, 2014
If you are sleeping in the garage and there ain't no garage door, it's a coach house.

Consider raising the home with re-claimed Chicago brick. But do the exterior work quickly. Very quickly. If anybody complains simply state that your home was always that height. Make them prove otherwise!

Or find out where the zoning department head eats lunch. Be there first and pay for him. Do that for a week. Might help.
1 vote Thank Flag Link Sun Aug 19, 2012
Get your hands on the City's zoning ordinance and yes talk to your Alderman:

17-15-0303-C Detached houses that are a nonconforming use in a B, C or M district may be expanded by up to 30% of the structure's existing floor area, provided that such expansion may not exceed the maximum allowable floor area ratio of the district in which the structure is located.

17-15-0303-D Nonconforming coach houses on properties designated as official Chicago Landmarks or located within the boundaries of a Chicago Landmark District may be used as a dwelling unit for a single household if the Zoning Administrator determines that competent evidence exists that the coach house was previously used as a legal dwelling unit. Incidental repairs and normal maintenance necessary to keep nonconforming coach house in sound condition are permitted, but no expansions are allowed.

17-15-0303-E Nonconforming coach houses on properties outside the boundaries of a Chicago Landmark District may continue to be occupied as dwelling units provided that they have not been continuously vacant for more than one year. Incidental repairs and normal maintenance necessary to keep nonconforming coach house in sound condition are permitted, but no expansions are allowed.

17-15-0304 Loss of Nonconforming Use Status.

17-15-0304-A Discontinuance.

1. If a nonconforming use is discontinued for 18 continuous months or more, all nonconforming use rights are lost and re-establishment of the nonconforming use is prohibited.
1 vote Thank Flag Link Mon Aug 13, 2012
Thank you so much for your feedback. I will take your advice and contact my alderman again.
Flag Mon Aug 13, 2012
Start with your Alderman, an in person visit is best. I expect you will get the answer there, although you may not like what you hear.
No plan, no building, gets approved without the Alderman's office knowing about it.
1 vote Thank Flag Link Mon Aug 13, 2012
Considering buying a building with a coach house. How much appraisal value does a coach house add?
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue May 24, 2016
Hi, does anyone know if a detached coach house counts as a 'flat' in zoning. I have a property in RT4 zone with 2 flats in the main building, and a coach house in the back. I am considering finishing the basement to make it another unit, but does the coach house limit me since it is already considered a 3 flat (the max for RT4 zone)?
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Dec 9, 2012
I just wanted to say I learned a lot from this posting!!!

Thanks to all who answered, and thanks Kim for asking a great question!

Michael Vrielink
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Sep 4, 2012
Generally speaking you are fighting and uphill battle with this and you need an architect to state your position to zoning in language/delivery that will give you the best chance to accomplish your goal of renovating your property. I wouldn't talk to zoning or the alderman's office again until you have hired an architect. It may not be as expensive as you think. The biggest obstacle is to take the word "coach house" out of the conversation with zoning.

From experience, I would tell you that your time, effort and money is probably better spent on other housing options given our current real estate market. If you are dead-set on the renovation project I have one more idea that might help your "this is not a coach house" argument.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Aug 13, 2012
These are all great answers. We are zoned RT-4.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Aug 13, 2012
Thank you so much for all of the great information! I'm truly grateful. A follow up question to the respondents with coach houses: Do you have a separate address from your front house or is it some variation of the front house address? Ours is separate (front house is 913 and ours is 915).

I spoke to the Alderman's office this morning and they said that I should have an architect do drawings (expensive if I'm not sure I can build) then come back to the Alderman's office and then go back to zoning. Seems like a big roundabout.

However, being familiar with the building code (I practically have it memorized at this point) I called zoning back today and asked someone to tell me the City's definition of a coach house. Apparently there isn't a written definition. That gives me hope. The gentleman I spoke to said I can write up my situation and for a mere $50 I can request an advisory opinion letter from the zoning supervisor before hiring an architect. Does anyone have experience with this?

When I went to zoning the first time, we confirmed that we still have nearly 1000 sq ft to play with based on FAR and we acknowledged that based on our hand drawings that we would need a variance on the rear setback. I'm hoping that since there seems to be at least a little ambiguity on the definition of a coach house and that we still have sq footage left to play with that, if I write my argument well enough that we might be able to pull this off.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Aug 13, 2012
Alderman will defer to Zoning. To get a good answer from zoning you will need an architect.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Aug 13, 2012
Hm, I think you're right about getting an architect. I was hoping to avoid it at this point but that seems impossible now.
Flag Mon Aug 13, 2012
Awesome answers. You can easily see if you are in a B, C or M district, but most likely you is under some type of residential (R) zone.
City of Chicago zoning website will let you see.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Aug 13, 2012

I am renovating a coach house right now and dealing with the city is challenging to say the least. A coach house is an existing non-conforming use, so you can usually permit limited work to the structure; however, the city will not let you expand from the existing footprint of a coach house (I recently tried this and got denied by zoning). You may also run into problems depending upon the zoning and set back requirements of your lot. If the existing liveable space above grade exceeds your allowable FAR (floor area ratio) calculation the zoning department may find yet another reason to not permit your project. Rather than reaching out to the alderman, I would consult an architect at this point of the project.

I can answer more of your questions once I have a better idea of your situation. Call/email me if you would like to talk.

Erik Sachs
RpV Realty and Development
Cell 773/368-5515
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Aug 13, 2012
That is a great quetion for which I have no clue, but I would think that the building department could tell you. If you are wanting to make an addition you will need a licensed contractor so you could also ask him. He probably will not know the answer, but might find the right person in the buiklding department who will know the answer. All I know is that you cannot do anything to a coach house except tear it down.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Aug 13, 2012
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