Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 19, 2018

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Before beginning construction on your house, check your local zoning ordinance to confirm that the intended additional unit is allowed in your district. Generally, an in-law apartment has a separate kitchen, bathroom and living area. If the in-law apartment is considered to be a separate residence, it may be classified as a conversion of your one-family home into a two-family home. You might be in violation of the local zoning law, if your district is not zoned for two-family homes, and subject to fines and permit requirements.

Zoning Laws Can Affect Your Construction Decision

Since local zoning laws vary in each jurisdiction, carefully read the construction provisions of your local zoning ordinance before building your in-law apartment. If your ordinance allows in-law apartments, its requirements and restrictions must still be followed. Confirm that your local zoning law allows the planned size, the design, and location of the unit on your property. Adding a few rooms to your existing house by finishing the basement and installing a kitchen might expose you to fewer zoning restrictions, than turning your existing house into a duplex, or building a separate cottage in the backyard. 

Local Zoning Ordinance Prohibits Construction of Your Intended Unit

If the local zoning regulations do not allow the construction of your in-law apartment, building this apartment is a violation of the zoning code with possible fines and penalties. However, you may be able to get an exception (often referred to as a “special use permit“) through a petition to the zoning board and/or with the approval of your neighbors. Alternatively, you can change the scope of your project to a type of in-law apartment whose construction is permitted by the zoning code.