Want to Rent Your Guesthouse? Plan Commission to Review Code on Thursday

If you’ve looked to soften the blow of your property tax bill by renting out your back house or guest house, you may chafe under the rules which Dallas Development Code restricts Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs. But with a dearth of affordable rentals, more residents are keen to offer an option that wasn’t previously available. 

That’s why the City Plan Commission will review amendments to chapters 51 and 51A of the Dallas Development Code to allow ADUs and create more workable rules so that homeowners and renters can meet in the middle and close the housing gap. The draft ordinance allowing ADUs will go in front of the commission Thursday, June 22. The meeting starts at 9 a.m.

While more affordable rentals solves a big problem in Dallas, there are some people who say a building boom of backyard “granny flats” as they’re called, would wreak irrevocable harm on many neighborhoods, especially historic districts in high-traffic areas. One example is Vickery Place and the M Streets area around Greenville Avenue. After four public meetings on the ordinance, some changes to the proposal may have solved a few of the issues with the ordinance, with broader notifications for ADU exceptions (from homeowners within 200 feet now to 400 feet) and an off-street parking allocation. Another key change was to allow ADUs to be built at the maximum height allowed in the neighborhood, which would facilitate more units atop existing detached garages, which doesn’t increase lot coverage while creating more available housing. Additionally, to qualify as an ADU, the main home must be owner occupied. So far, city staff is recommending that the plan commission pass the ordinance as is.

Some homeowners in East Dallas have already gotten a jump start, said Ken Lampton when the news of the granny flat ordinance broke. Right now, the ADU ordinance precludes full-scale kitchens, but it doesn’t appear that these homeowners care.

“It is obvious there are many big second-story rooms over new garages in my M Street/Lower Greenville neighborhood. And I suspect many of them contain full-scale bathrooms and kitchens,” Lampton commented. “But under present zoning code, the presence of a second kitchen means you have built a duplex on single-family zoned land. If you advertise the presence of the kitchen by renting out your garage apartment, the city can come in and shut you down at any time. I am not in favor of formally legalizing these rentals. I believe there will be many undesirable consequences if Dallas does so.”

For Kimberly King, a Vickery Place homeowner and attorney, it’s sheerly an economic issue.

“Garage and backyard apartments are the only way some residents can afford to live in East Dallas, both in terms of supplemental income for homeowners and more affordable rent for those who want something more homey than a cookie cutter apartment,” King said. “It’s ridiculous to me that some folks think this will somehow devalue the neighborhood. My single-family home is sandwiched between an eight-plex of efficiencies and a duplex, and I don’t see my property taxes going down.”
 
In fact, some homeowners have said that they plan to build ADUs atop detached garages in order to afford those very same property tax increases. However, a word of caution: Construction of an ADU can often increase the overall value of a property, which will increase valuations, likewise increasing tax bills further. Still, there are far two affordable rentals in Dallas, so perhaps paying more in property taxes to lease a garage apartment is a trade off some homeowners are willing to make.
 
“There has been a lot of media attention on Dallas for our housing inequality, and allowing Accessory Dwelling Units is at least a small step toward trying to remedy that,” King added.

2 Comment

  • Thanks for writing about this topic, Joanna. I went to four meetings of ZOAC (the Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committe) during the last several months where they talked about Accessory Dwelling Units. At the end of the process, ZOAC voted to make no changes to the present rules. When the City Plan Commission considered the matter on Thursday, June 22, they voted to accept the recommendation of ZOAC. The vote was 7 to 6. As a result of this decision the rules remain the same as they have been for the last decade or more. Can someone tell me whether the City Council will also vote on Accessory Dwelling Units? Or have we reached the end of the line with the CPC vote?

  • As I attended more and more City Hall meetings concerning the new rules for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s), I became more and more confused. Much was said about the need for large numbers of ” more affordable rental properties” in places like Lakewood and Lower Greenville Avenue. But the rules being proposed by City Staff didn’t seem to be designed to actually encourage anyone to build those ADUs. They did not provide economic incentives to encourage large numbers of homeowners to assume the economic risks of building rent houses in their back yards. So all the talk about ADU’s—though full of “sound and fury”—seemed in the end to “signify nothing.”