Is an in-law apartment with bedroom, kitchen with range, bathroom, and connected to main living area with 2 egresses, legal in Wakefield, MA?

Asked by Home Helper, Wakefield, MA Tue Sep 13, 2011

Smoke certificate was granted upon our purchase and we have since renovated the house. Are we grandfathered into having the in-law with range if nothing has changed with the kitchen? Can we renew the smoke certificate for the new buyer? What do we tell buyers when they ask us if it's a "legal in-law?"

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Milton "Bud"…, Agent, East Bridgewater, MA
Thu Sep 15, 2011
Check with your local building department and ask for an answer, in writing, before representing anything as "legal". Most Massachusetts towns have differing views of "inlaw" apartments. Some towns, like my local town of Bridgewater, have specific bylaws covering size, means of egress and other factors which differentiate these additions from two family homes (which are not allowed in many residential zones). Other towns treat inlaws as simply "added living space" governed by who is living there as opposed to the space in general, There is no rule against having two kitchens, or three living rooms, or five baths; the difficulty lies when people feel they can rent this space or create separate utility bills.
Also, how the fire department treats the matter has no reflection on zoning. The smoke / Co 2 certificate solely addresses compliance with smoke detector / carbon monoxide detector laws. Many people assume that town / city departments are all connected. This is not true ! Each department handles only their scope of responsibility. For example, many make the mistake of using assessors cards to determine zoning. They list properties as two families if they are taxed that way. Assessors will evaluate properties based upon their current usuage, irrelevant to zoning compliance.
In short, whenever any legal use question arises, go to the source. Usually, the building inspector, who in most towns also serves as the zoning enforcement offficer and request a zoning compliance determination. Better safe than sorry .. I echo the "better have an inlaw who is a lawyer" comment
1 vote
Alex Pereira…, Agent, Farmington Hills, MI
Tue Sep 13, 2011
Thats a question I would recommend you take up with the building department in your city since it involves contractor codes. Some places may allow you to grandfather yourself in since you live there but the moment you try to sell they may make you bring it up to current code. A legal in law is one you know the city has legally passed. If you are unsure and deliver the wrong information you could be taken for damages by the new owner if they choose to process litigation against you. Better safe than sorry.
1 vote
Gene Mullen, Agent, Wakefield, MA
Tue Oct 30, 2012
The "Legal in-law" status can be a confusing and poorly defined term. We all know what we mean when we say a home has an in-law apartment, but in order for it to be considered a legal in-law or assessorary apartment as defined by a town, such as Wakefield, the apartment must be limited to a certain percentage of living space as compared to the total living space of the residence and can only be occupied by a direct relative. Home owners can apply to the town for a certificate allowing for the legal use of the in-law / assessorary apartment, but it must be renewed each year and is not transferable to new owners. New owners must also apply and demonstrate the proposed use is in compliance with the town by-laws.

It's always best to check in with the town's Building Inspector before making any plans or modifications to the home in order to avoid any disappoints. As a local Realtor, I have been asked by homeowners to approach the Building Inspector to detail their intensions while they remain anonymous.
0 votes
John & Miche…, Agent, Reading, MA
Wed Sep 14, 2011
The only way to know for sure that it is a legal in-law is to check with the building inspector. As Louis has stated, do not represent to potential buyers that the in-law is legal, if you are not certain. Before you sell, you will have to get a smoke certificate from the town. The fact that the kitchen was in place when you had purchased it and the smoke certificate was issued is encouraging, but unfortunately doesn't guarantee anything.

Feel free to contact us for a more detailed discussion and strategies. Good Luck!
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Louis Wolfs…, Agent, Needham, MA
Tue Sep 13, 2011
Unless the building codes allow it no. An appraiser should also note it as not being a conforming use. If you know that it is illegal and are concerned about it, one can remove the stove, put it in the basement for the new owners, others can get away with just covering it up for the appraisal, not that I am recommending it. The building dept. if you did not pull a permit for the kitchen, can make you remove everything or bring it up to code.


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