No one ever accused you of getting along with your mother-in-law.

But when it comes to helping her as she ages, you’re ready to help. She and other aging family members need someone to check on them, but often they still want privacy and space.

While mother-in-law suite legality may have some hoops to jump through, this type of solution works for many families. Read on for more about why to build a separate space and how to make it legal.

Why Build A Mother-in-Law Suite?

Before modern medicine, life expectancy was much lower. Through the wonders of science, we can enjoy much more time with the people we love because people live longer now than they ever have. This means we need to think about the older family members we have and how to care for them.

The amount we pay for health care has also gone up, which means that a nursing home or assisted living facility isn’t always an affordable option. While we’d love to hire someone, often we are the ones who are called on to help instead.

A popular way to care for aging parents is welcoming them into your own home. Creating a safe space for them that’s separate from the rest of the house gives them autonomy and means you can care for them as needed. This is a more agreeable option than shouldering the cost of keeping them in a separate home.

A mother-in-law suite is a way to give them what they want — their own life — and still keep them close where you can help if the need arises. The term mother-in-law suite varies from city to city. Each one will have their own legal definitions.

You might also hear the term ADU, or accessory dwelling unit. This is how legal documents refer to a suite or apartment that’s part of a single-family home. But there can be some legal issues with building an addition or renovating.

How to Determine Mother-in-Law Suite Legality

In some places, you can call any addition to a home an in-law suite. In other places, you have to be careful with wording and list it as having a separate entrance without using the words “in-law suite.”

Still other city ordinances dictate that you have to have a separate heating system, or even all utilities separate from the main house, before you can call the space an in-law suite. Some regulations may have limits on how many square feet the space can be, or how many egress windows they need to have.

Do a walk-through and note the appliances, entrances and exits, utilities, and location of everything. Their location and access may determine how the suite gets classified.

Before you get to the final stage of the buying process and find a surprise you’re not ready for, get a copy of the assessor’s report. The zoning in your area has to include in-law suites for it to be legal. If the home has a space that qualifies as an in-law suite but isn’t zoned for it, you won’t be able to buy until the current owner fixes the problem.

There are also laws about whether you may rent out a space like this or not. Check them all out before you begin using the space in that way, or you’ll be subject to fines or other penalties.

This is a different animal if you are planning to change your current home by building or remodeling, rather than buying a different home.

Building A Space

Caring for aging parents can take its toll on your psyche, and having them in a separate suite can help. To make sure everything is legal, you’ll want to contact the city or county and find out their requirements.

Make sure if you’re hiring a contractor instead of doing the work yourself that they are aware of all the requirements for an in-law suite. This is a question you have to ask during the interview process. Ask specific questions that don’t call for a yes or no answer to get a good idea of their familiarity with the rules.

Once you have your contractor, or your copy of the zoning requirements if you’re doing your own building, you can determine your plans and your budget.

Renovating What You Already Have

You may choose to change the space you already have, rather than building an addition or increasing the size of your house. Innovation and creativity help with seeing the final product possibilities and how to get there from where you start.

From remodeling a basement to adding a bathroom to make a section of the house more private, you need to do what makes the most sense for your family. Take a look at the zoning requirements you got from the city, and consider how your existing home could undergo some tweaking to meet the legal rules.

Other ways to remodel include putting in hook-ups for a stove or adding a sink to make a kitchen. Changing the space you have can be easier on the budget and less invasive, depending on how your home’s set up.

Making Room for Loved Ones

Converting a home into a shared space, while stressful at first, means that everyone can have more peace of mind. Check on mother-in-law suite legality in your city or county before making plans to build or renovate.

Make sure to involve the whole family when talking about the decision, and communicate about everyone’s roles.

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