What exactly makes an in-law apartment legal?

Asked by Rachel, Pollock, LA Mon Mar 17, 2008

We bought a house 3.5 years ago with a finished basement plus bathroom plus closet. We are now selling the houose. How do we know if this is a "legal" in-law space?

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Deborah Byrne, Agent, Somerville, MA
Wed Oct 2, 2013
You can use wording as additional kitchen and bath instead of using the word inlaw.
I will be happy to help. 617-201-4730. Prudential Relocation Director,
32 years experience.
Deborah Byrne
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Jim.butler.m…, Home Buyer, Lake Lure, NC
Tue Feb 5, 2013
This is obviously a popular question, and the answers are all over the place.
We put an "in-law" addition on our home. We went to the town board with our plans. They asked if it was going to be a separate residence. We quite honestly said we didn't know what the definition of that was, as the new space would have a private entrance, but also be accessible via an entrance inside the home.
The board said it was simple, and they asked two questions:
1) Will the addition have it's own heating system? No.
2) Will the addition have it's own electrical service/meter? No.
They then told us it was not a separate dwelling.
In our town, you get a "special permit" to have a relative live in a space such as this. You can not rent the space out, it is valid only for relatives to live in.

So yes...there ARE legal in-law appts, even in areas that are zoned single-family.

The really tricky part is getting an appraisal, because there are NO comps for this type of home.
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Tom Yurczyk, Agent, Glastonbury, CT
Fri Jan 18, 2013
In CT the definition can vary from one town to the next. For example in some towns when the property conveys to the new owner, the home can loose it's legal "in-law" status. The owner would then have to apply with the town and make sure the home is in compliance with new building codes, regulations and zoning.

Tom Yurczyk
Black Rock Homes LLC
Glastonbury, CT
0 votes
Barbara Mada…, Agent, Albuquerque, NM
Tue Apr 29, 2008
Be very very careful before you start advertising anything! Get to know what is required - legal or not - in order to advertise a space as "in-law quarters".

In our area, "in-law quarters" is not a legal description and you can call anything you want "in-law quarters". Usually it means a second Master Suite or it can mean an area in a house with a bathroom in such close proximity to the bedroom that the access is private and screened.

In fact, in our area, anything more than that - ie, cooking facilities - is illegal and you would need to get any cooking facility out of the house prior to the house being appraised or you will be found in violation of city ordinance.

Bottom line - call a Realtor and have them discuss with you what it "tradition" and what is "code" in your area.

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The Moores', , Templeton, MA
Wed Apr 9, 2008
This is a great question. Surprisingly I get this question phrased more like ...How do I get this to be a legal in-law. If you wouldn't mind I would love to read this question on the air during our weekly real estate radio show on WGAW 1340am.

OK AN ANSWER: An in-law is GENERALLY described as a living area that is connected on the interior of an otherwise single family structure. However, this description can very from town to town. We see in the Worcester County area alot of ranch and split-entry style homes..connected by the stairwell inside the home to the two living spaces. The in-law should have adequate bath and kitchen facilities.

The local building inspector or assessor may be able to provide you with a current report of the property. On it - it should say if it is recognized or not as an in-law. I would simply ask for a copy of the assessors report that a realtor told you its a good document to have on file.

If the document does not recognize the living area as an in-law and you have been advised by your realtor that the option is cost effective. Then ask your town clerk for a copy of the local zoning regulations book. Look up in-law and see what specific requirement your lot and house would need to meet to qualify.

In-law, single family homes are really HOT right now. Most of my buyers have been couples selling mom & dads home and theirs to save cash on tax and time maintaining and sharing a in-law single style home. People are living longer and the cost of health care is still on the rise. It is my opinion that this trend is not going away anytime soon.

Wishing you a Savy Sale!
0 votes
James Norton, , Somerville, MA
Fri Apr 4, 2008
Mike and Jon are both right - "in-law apartment" is a misnomer. You either have a single unit occupancy or multi-unit occupancy issued by the city/town you live in, end of story. There are instances where it might seem to be the exception, but it is very clear about "# of units" on a COO. Now, you can have a permit issued to install a second kitchen, for "accessory use", but that phrase has morphed over time into the oft-misused term "legal in-law apartment".
They may tell you over the phone at the Waltham Bldg Dept - but it doesn't hurt to go in person, ask for the jacket or file on your house and look for the COO - certificate of occupancy. If there isn't one, then ask to speak to one of the building inspectors and they might be able to decipher some of the data in the jacket/folder for you and give a determination on the spot.

James Norton
ERA The Norton Group
Somerville MA
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Jon Ernest, , Brookline, MA
Mon Mar 17, 2008
Typically "in-law" apartments are never legal. The term "in-law" refers to throwing the old mother-in-law down in the basement so she has her own place and doesn't bug you as much. But they're usually not legal units.

If you want to find out if your "in-law" apartment is a legal unit. First what's the zoning say (only single family homes allowed?)? Second does it have two routes of egress? It's probably going to need a fully functional kitchen and bathroom too. I think the importance of each is in order.
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Michael Lefe…, Agent, Westborough, MA
Mon Mar 17, 2008
Check with the Waltham Building Department (link below). What we don't like to see as appraisers is an additional range down there. Finished basement with an additional bath is not typically an issue, but check with the Building Department. See if permits were pulled. It doesn't sound like there's any type of kitchen or range set-up so I'm thinking you might be OK. Hope this helps. LInk is below.....

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