backyard cottage rules eased

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The Seattle City Council has voted on a host of rules predicted to increase the number of ADUs and DADUs


* Increases the allowed size of backyard cottages (DADUs) from 800 square feet to 1,000 square feet.

* Adds an additional 1-2 feet in height, allowing for more usable space in the units' interiors.

* Allows up to two attached accessory dwelling units (AADUs) or one AADU plus one DADU on a property.

* Limits the floor area ratio of new homes, while excluding the area of ADUs. Thereby encouraging homeowners to build an ADU when building a new home or remodeling.

* Eliminates the owner occupancy requirement.

* Removes the off-street parking requirement.

DADU proposed code change amendments

city council is debating which of the proposed code changes will go into effect and offering their own amendments

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a DADU used as a short term rental prior to grandfather's retirement

As city council prepares to vote on the proposed code changes to Seattle's single family zones, even amendments have been proposed.  These include owner occupancy restrictions for short term rentals and allowance for bike parking. 

Here is what we think is important.

  • The proposed code changes would remove the owner occupancy requirement. An amendment would add a 1 year requirement for the 2nd ADU. We believe that owner occupancy should be required for all properties with ADUS for a period of time (3 years).

The impact to removing the occupancy requirement is unknown. The environmental impact statement (EIS) prepared as part of the lawsuit doesn't appear to adequately predict the impact from removing this requirement. Detractors note that the EIS does not take into account the increasing trend to sell ADUs and their primary residence separately using a condominium or land-lease agreement. Owner occupancy for a period of time (3 years) is good and should minimize the destruction of naturally occurring affordable housing by speculative developers.  

  • Owner occupancy should be required for all properties used as short-term rentals.

A proposed amendment by Lisa Herbold would prohibit short term rental use for new ADUs. It would be far better to maintain the owner occupancy requirement. Allowing owner's flexibility is crucial to long term planning for those contemplating building an ADU.  The higher rate of return for a short term rental (STR) allows more ADU's and DADUs to be built.  A majority of the homeowner's we work with plan to use their cottages as short term rental at some point.  The magnolia cottage pictured above was rented out as a STR for a few years, which paid for construction, prior to the owner's father moving in.

  • SDCI should closely monitor ADU construction and report annually to City Council. 

Two proposed amendment would monitor ADU permitting and use this seems like a good idea.

  • Garage Space should be included in FAR calculations. 

The current proposal would allow the exclusion of up to 1,000 sq. ft. of garage space for ADUs. This is effectively a parking subsidy. A better solution would be limiting the exempted area to 200 sq. ft. or enough space for one car. One proposed amendment would allow 25 sq. ft. to be excluded for bike parking, seems unnecessary.  

Comments may be submitted to Lisa Herbold lisa.herbold@seattle.gov

Understanding Seattle's Proposed Land-Use Code Changes

City council has proposed significant changes to the Seattle Land-Use Code with the aim of increasing the construction of backyard cottages (DADUs) and attached accessory dwelling units (ADUs). These changes, in the making for years now, have been delayed by a lawsuit and appeal brought about under SEPA regulations. Seattle City Council held a public hearing to discuss the proposed code changes Tuesday, June 11th at 5:30pm in council chambers. Discussion and possible vote on amendments and the proposed legislation will be held on June 28th at 2:00pm.

What do these changes really mean for Seattle and for ADUs?

The proposed code changes include many items that are minor and could have been completed years ago. These include modest increases in size and height of allowed cottages, details about dormers, and the location of entries. The more significant changes proposed are as follows:

  • Allowing two ADUs on one lot

  • Removing the off-street parking requirement

  • Removing the owner-occupancy requirement

  • Increasing the household size limit for a lot with two ADUs

  • Establishing a new limit on the maximum size of single-family dwellings equal to one half of the lot size (FAR = 0.5)

This DADU was built for a grandparent in the Bryant neighborhood

This DADU was built for a grandparent in the Bryant neighborhood

Owner Occupancy

Of these we believe the owner-occupancy requirement is most important. Currently the owner is required to live on the property for a minimum of six months of the year.

The impact to removing the occupancy requirement is unknown. The environmental impact statement (EIS) prepared as part of the lawsuit doesn't appear to adequately predict the impact from removing this requirement. Detractors believe that it will lead to the destruction of large numbers of existing homes and their replacement with duplexes and triplexes. They also note an increasing trend to sell ADUs and their primary residence separately using a condominium or land-lease agreement.

Our Recommendations:

  • The original proposal to sunset owner occupancy after a period of time (3 years) is good and should minimize the destruction of naturally occurring affordable housing by speculative developers.

  • Owner occupancy should be required for all properties used as short-term rentals.  

  • SDCI should closely monitor ADU construction and report annually to City Council.

The builder plans to maintain ownership of this DADU and sell the primary residence using a condominium agreement

The builder plans to maintain ownership of this DADU and sell the primary residence using a condominium agreement

Floor Area Ratio Limits

The EIS finds that the most significant way to reduce tear-downs (i.e the removal of naturally occurring affordable housing) will occur by introducing a floor area ratio (FAR) limit. Currently the size of new houses is limited by setbacks and height limits. The trend in new construction is for very large houses (with correspondingly large price tags), which are typically beyond the means of median income earners. The FAR limit would reduce the size of what can be built but exclude ADUs and DADUs from the restriction. The goal being to prevent tear-downs and to encourage rather the construction of ADUs and DADUs.

Our Recommendations:

  • Approve a FAR limit of 0.5 for new construction.

  • Exemption of ADUs and DADUs from the FAR limit.

The City Council held a public hearing to discuss these proposed changes on Tuesday, June 11th at 5:30pm in council chambers. Discussion and potential vote on the amendments and proposed legislation will be held on June 28th at 2:00pm.

We encourage you to voice your opinion with your council members and look forward to moving ahead with sensible legislation.


upcoming workshops

backyard cottages for fun and profit

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Backyard cottages can be used for many things including housing a family member or as a short term rental.  Join Bruce Parker from Microhouse and Stefan Hansmire from Hansmire Builders to learn more about how to plan for and establish a realistic budget for your cottage. Bring your ideas, after the presentation we will have plenty of time to answer questions about the specifics of your project. 


Upcoming workshop dates:

Thursday, March 7,  7:00 pm 
Phinney Neighborhood Center.
6532 Phinney Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103
Admission Price: $15 members, $25 general public

Register

backyard cottage open house Friday September 21st

Learn more about backyard cottages and meet others who have built or are thinking about building a backyard cottage! 

Colette and Chris built this backyard cottage as a short term rental. Their cottage cottage takes advantage of the sloping site to create a unique three level design.  It features a generous master suite, a living room with vaulted ceilings and an 2nd bedroom/office on the top floor.  2 Bedroom, 2  Bathrooms. The cottage will be open Friday September 21st from 4:30 to 7:00 pm. Email info@microhousenw.com for more information.

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backyard cottage - would you move into your own backyard?

The owner built this backyard cottage as a rental but fell in love (with the cottage) during the design process and decided to rent out his house instead.  
 

This backyard cottage features an open floor plan on the ground floor with a kitchen, living and powder rooms that open with accordion doors onto a patio with a gas fireplace.  Upstairs is a master bedroom complete with a kitchenette, and a bath with laundry room.  The overall strategy with this backyard cottage, as it is with most of our designs, is to keep the structure simple allowing a larger percentage of the budget to be spent on finishes. The height and size of DADUs is limited based on the size of the lot. This lot was particularly small limiting the allowable footprint to 294 sq. ft

This backyard cottage features an open floor plan on the ground floor with a kitchen, living and powder rooms that open with accordion doors onto a patio with a gas fireplace.  Upstairs is a master bedroom complete with a kitchenette, and a bath with laundry room.  The overall strategy with this backyard cottage, as it is with most of our designs, is to keep the structure simple allowing a larger percentage of the budget to be spent on finishes. The height and size of DADUs is limited based on the size of the lot. This lot was particularly small limiting the allowable footprint to 294 sq. ft

Ceramic tile accentuates the entry area.  The view from the entry towards the kitchen and patio beyond.   

Ceramic tile accentuates the entry area.  The view from the entry towards the kitchen and patio beyond.

 

The kitchen is located along one wall is both compact and simple.

The kitchen is located along one wall is both compact and simple.

Accordion doors open up the cottage to the new patio with gas fireplace.  A movable kitchen island is the perfect accessory to the compact kitchen.  Exposed wood joists add warmth and texture in contrast with the concrete floors.  The joists were spaced to accommodate the owner's weight lifting rack.

Accordion doors open up the cottage to the new patio with gas fireplace.

A movable kitchen island is the perfect accessory to the compact kitchen.  Exposed wood joists add warmth and texture in contrast with the concrete floors.  The joists were spaced to accommodate the owner's weight lifting rack.

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Where some houses may come with a man cave this DADU features a "man wall" with big screen tv, electric fireplace, weight rack and the ultimate amenity, beer taps.  A keg fridge is located behind the wall in the under stair space.  

Where some houses may come with a man cave this DADU features a "man wall" with big screen tv, electric fireplace, weight rack and the ultimate amenity, beer taps.  A keg fridge is located behind the wall in the under stair space.  

A pocket door located at the bottom of the stairs allows for the two floors to be used independently.

A pocket door located at the bottom of the stairs allows for the two floors to be used independently.

The city of Seattle limits both the eave and ridge height of cottages allowing greater height for a gable roof which we took advantage of to good effect. 

The city of Seattle limits both the eave and ridge height of cottages allowing greater height for a gable roof which we took advantage of to good effect. 

The master suite features vaulted ceilings and abundant light. A kitchenette allows this room to be used separately from the first floor.

The master suite features vaulted ceilings and abundant light. A kitchenette allows this room to be used separately from the first floor.

The shower is tucked into an under eave space. 

The shower is tucked into an under eave space. 

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The master bath features vaulted ceilings and skylight.  A laundry room is tucked off to one side under the eaves.  

The master bath features vaulted ceilings and skylight.  A laundry room is tucked off to one side under the eaves.
 

The owner built a new patio with a gas fire place.  The stairs from the house were rebuilt align with the cottage.

The owner built a new patio with a gas fire place.  The stairs from the house were rebuilt align with the cottage.

more backyard cottages in 2018

We are looking forward to another busy year doing what we love, designing backyard cottages.  

bryant backard cottage

bryant backard cottage

Last year saw the completion of a record number of backyard cottages and 2018 is shaping up to be another big year for ADUs. In 2017 the City of Seattle had a mayoral election during which housing and livability were major themes. The public and policy makers seem to agree that ADUs have, and will continue to play, an increasingly important role in our vibrant city. 
In 2017 the city proposed code changes to encourage the construction of more backyard cottages and began preparing an EIS to inform the public and policy makers about the possible impacts of these changes. This process is schedule to be completed and the city council expected to vote on the proposed changes this summer.  

Importantly, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) has at long last agreed to clarify the rules governing the size of cottages. We estimate that the current system, which is rife with inconsistencies, adds $1,000 to design and permitting costs and over six weeks to the permitting process. We are working closely with SDCI to ensure common sense interpretations for what is included in the allowable gross square footage are adopted into the next omnibus code update. 

Even with the support of city council and SDCI, backyard cottages will continue to face hurdles. Intense competition for material and labor will see another year of double digit construction costs rises for the Seattle area. Rule changes under EIS review won't reduce the cost to build a backyard cottage even if more are built. Permitting and construction scheduling will also continue to be affected. SDCI is starting the year with a temporary hold on new building permit intakes and an ongoing 6-8 week increase in review time on projects already in their system.

In spite of these challenges backyard cottages are still a great option for many families, we are expecting another banner year for backyard cottages. We will be continuing to do our part in the community to maintain and encourage thoughtful planning and exercise patience as the city rolls out new policies and changes. 

backyard cottages - this is what it is really like to live in your daughter's backyard

ballard backyard cottage featured in country living magazine

When Meredith Stannard, 66, retired from her job earlier this year, her soon-to-be-former coworkers couldn't wait to see the backyard cottage she and her partner Elyse Zandonella, 69, had decided to downsize into. "Everybody was curious," she says. "I started doing these happy hours where I'd have one or two people over at a time. There's a lot of buzz with people wondering if they could do this too."

When Meredith Stannard, 66, retired from her job earlier this year, her soon-to-be-former coworkers couldn't wait to see the backyard cottage she and her partner Elyse Zandonella, 69, had decided to downsize into. "Everybody was curious," she says. "I started doing these happy hours where I'd have one or two people over at a time. There's a lot of buzz with people wondering if they could do this too."

photo by Matt Hagen  Last November, the couple moved from a 1,300-square-foot home in West Seattle to a 613-square-foot cottage in the backyard of a house owned by their daughter Drew, 33, and son-in-law Jacob, 37, in the city's Ballard neighborhood. Their mini-house now stands where a dilapidated detached garage, formerly envisioned as a possible writing studio for Drew, once stood. Click to read more about their experience in  country living  article by Maria Carter.

photo by Matt Hagen

Last November, the couple moved from a 1,300-square-foot home in West Seattle to a 613-square-foot cottage in the backyard of a house owned by their daughter Drew, 33, and son-in-law Jacob, 37, in the city's Ballard neighborhood. Their mini-house now stands where a dilapidated detached garage, formerly envisioned as a possible writing studio for Drew, once stood. Click to read more about their experience in country living article by Maria Carter.

backyard cottages top $100,000 views and walkability as most desirable amenity

Everyone knows that a home’s price is affected by such things as its size and condition and the quality of nearby schools. There’s also the $50,000 walkable cup of coffee, the $100,000 view and the $200,000 backyard cottage.

broadview backyard cottage - rental and family occupied

broadview backyard cottage - rental and family occupied

 

As in Seattle, backyard cottages are being built in Berkley in increasing numbers. In a recent berkleyside article, bay area real estate agents discussed the relative merits of various home amenities. 

Pricewise, an in-law unit or a tiny home can boost a home’s value more than any other element, agents said. 

“People love it when the house has a little separate cottage or in-law unit so they can accommodate friends and family who are visiting from out of state,” said Victoria Lynn Curtis, an agent with Better Homes and Gardens. 

"Workers who telecommute can use such quarters as offices, and artists can use them as studios; double-income professionals can use them to house nannies or au pairs. Or homeowners can rent them out, generating a tidy income".
 

However real estate appraisers struggle with how to value backyard cottages and other ADUs primarily because there are simply not enough comparable sales to serve as a guide. Bruce Parker from microhouse and Stefan Hansmire were recently invited to participate in a panel discussion about backyard cottages during the Appraisers Coalition of Washington State conference. One topic of discussion was the use of backyard cottages as rentals. This trend has only increased in recent years as more people have become aware of and begun to use their cottages as short term rentals. Short term rentals provide a relatively high rate of return and cottage owners would like the rental income to be considered in the appraised value of their homes when seeking financing. However, most municipalities have owner occupancy requirements. In these cases, a lender or underwriter must asses the value of the home without income from an ADU because in the case of foreclosure the ADU must be removed before the house could be rented by the loan holder. That takes us back to the use of comparable sales to establish an appraised value. The contribution of an ADU to these valuations tend to be less than the cost of construction. This in turn makes construction loans harder to obtain for DADU construction. As a result, most home owners use cash or home equity to finance construction.

Value vs Cost

The cost of construction varies depending on a number of market factors including the cost of materials and labor. The cost of building a backyard cottage has been increasing since the recession. Assessing the value of a cottage for those planning to build one, involves consideration of the many possible uses of a cottage over the long term.  As discussed, many people use cottages as rentals. In this case,  a careful consideration of the rents in your area and anticipated costs and expected rate of return can help you establish a working budget.  
 

magnolia backyard cottage - short term rental/long term family occupied

magnolia backyard cottage - short term rental/long term family occupied

 

Even when cottages are used as rentals, that is often only one of many planned uses. Ben and January's cottage in Magnolia is one example. They originally rented their cottage on AirBNB.  Now that the cottage has been paid off, January's recently retired father has moved in and is enjoying being closer to his grandchildren and urban amenities. 

While it may be hard to put a value to how a well designed home makes you feel or the value of having a family member living nearby, some qualities are easier to asses. If that family member is an aging parent who would otherwise be living in an assisted living facility, it is relatively easy to look at the costs of local facilities.  For others building a new cottage may be less expensive than remodeling their existing house to more closely meet their needs. For example, new cottages can incorporate universal design components to assist those with mobility impairments. Having established a realistic budget based on your needs and values will guide the many decisions that make up design process.

 

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