In-law Suites in Massachusetts: Everything You Need to Know

Image source: Are you considering having an in-law suite in your Massachusetts home? In-law suites, also known as mother-in-law apartments or family suites, are becoming increasingly popular for multi-generational living. But before you embark...

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Are you considering having an in-law suite in your Massachusetts home? In-law suites, also known as mother-in-law apartments or family suites, are becoming increasingly popular for multi-generational living. But before you embark on this journey, there are a few things you should know.

The Purpose of An In-Law Suite

The main purpose of an in-law suite is to provide separate living quarters for extended family members within the same home. Whether you need help with childcare, have aging parents who require extra attention, or have a family member with specific care needs, an in-law suite can fulfill various multi-generational living requirements.

It's important to note that an in-law suite is not intended for renting to the general public. It is specifically meant for family members and must adhere to strict criteria set by the town or city.

Zoning of a Family or Accessory Unit, or In-Law Suite

Zoning laws for in-law suites can vary from town to town and state to state. It's crucial to check with your local building department to understand the rules and regulations specific to your area. For example, in towns like Tewksbury, Chelmsford, Billerica, and North Andover in Massachusetts, you can build an in-law unit without special permits or variances. However, in other towns, you may need to seek special permits or variances.

Common criteria for a family suite include restrictions on size, occupancy, bedrooms, appearance, permitting, and parking. Building codes must be followed, and any mistakes can result in the in-law suite being deemed "illegal" without necessary modifications.

Home Sellers and the Value of In-Law Suites

If you're a home seller, having a legal and properly permitted in-law suite can add value to your property. However, it's essential to ensure that your unit is permitted through the proper channels. Without the proper permits, an in-law suite may have little to no value on resale.

While the pool of home buyers specifically looking for homes with in-law apartments may be small, a well-executed and permitted unit can attract interest. In fact, some buyers will pay a premium for homes with well-designed in-law suites that match the rest of the house.

Renting Out an Unpermitted Unit to the General Public

Renting out an unpermitted in-law suite to someone who is not a family member comes with significant liabilities and risks. Cities can make you remove the tenant because the unit is illegal. You may also face contractual obligations and potential lawsuits in case of safety violations or damages. Insurance companies may not cover claims related to unpermitted work or unintended use.

What Home Buyers Should Know About Mother In-law Suites in Massachusetts

If you're a home buyer in need of the benefits that an in-law suite can provide, it's essential to ensure that the unit is properly permitted or can be permitted. While using an unpermitted suite might be tempting, it can hurt you during resale and expose you to liabilities and risks.

When buying a home with an existing in-law suite or considering adding one, it's crucial to do thorough research. A Massachusetts buyer's agent can be invaluable in helping you navigate the legalities and permitting process.

Two Cases of In-Law Suites Causing Problems for Buyers

In the past, there have been cases where buyers purchased homes with in-law suites that were marketed as such but could not be easily permitted. In one instance, the bedroom was deemed unsafe due to a lack of egress, resulting in the town revoking the occupancy permit. The buyers of another home had to dismantle a second kitchen because it couldn't be made into a permitted accessory unit at a reasonable cost.

Buying what you think you're buying is crucial, and relying on the seller's or listing agent's claims may not be enough. It's essential to conduct thorough due diligence and consult with the building department to ensure compliance with regulations.

In Conclusion

In-law suites can provide numerous benefits for homeowners with extended family living needs. However, it's crucial to obtain proper permits for your in-law suite to avoid future complications and expenses. For sellers, taking shortcuts or skipping the permitting process can be costly in the long run. And for buyers, conducting thorough research and seeking expert guidance are essential to ensure you get what you're paying for.

Remember, in-law suites are not just an extra room or an unregulated space; they require careful consideration and adherence to local regulations. So, make informed decisions and consult with professionals to create a safe and permitted in-law suite that adds value to your home.

This article was originally written by Kevin Vitali of EXIT Group One Real Estate.