Yes In My Backyard: Is An ADU Coming To A Home Near You?

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ADUs, Industrialized Housing, party walls, accessory structures. My head is swimming with all of the terms and code/zoning regulations that are up for discussion in Dallas as it tries to decide whether accessory dwelling units (ADUs) should be allowed in our city.

Austin recently passed changes to its regulations. Other cities that are larger or smaller than Dallas have also seen the light. They are working with builders and homeowners instead of against them to come up with a solution that will make their cities better places to live, especially with the new challenges we are all facing to stay healthy and safe.

Being involved in politics and government regulations has always scared me. Still, when the Fair Park debate came up a few years ago, I decided that it was time for this Lifestylist® to get involved and use my skills and network to help make positive changes for affordable housing in Dallas. 

Living in a 1940s printing factory built to be a live-work space has its challenges. Convincing people like the city sanitation department that yes, only two people live here. We aren’t running an Airbnb, mortuary, or illegal apartment complex. I like living in my diverse Oak Cliff neighborhood in a building with lots of history and character. 

When I couldn’t convince sanitation to return my trash cans, someone suggested that I contact my city council member, Chad West, to get help. That was the perfect solution, and he got things done. Chad is also involved in getting the City Plan Commissioner to update the ADU ordinance, and I was shocked that I didn’t know that all of this was going on because it’s something that I’m working on nationally. 

I also realized that most consumers and homeowners have no idea what this is all about, but this literally could be coming to a backyard near you. If you are as confused as I am, I have good news — I’ve been reading and asking questions to give you the condensed version of what this is all about that you don’t have to be a college professor to understand.

ADU: Accessory Dwelling Unit 

Simply put, an accessory dwelling unit is a second small dwelling constructed on the same lot or grounds as the primary residence. It cannot be sold or purchased separately, and the owner of the ADU is the same as the main home.

The City of Dallas states that “ADUs are quite often known as granny flats, garage apartments, back houses, or mother-in-law quarters, and are located on the same lot as the main house.”

Is an ADU a “tiny house?” It can be, but not all tiny houses are ADUs.

Industrialized Housing

I never heard this term before, but it is used a lot in the ordinance that the city is proposing. According to Section 1202.002 of the Texas Occupations Code, industrialized housing is a residential structure that is

  1. designed for the occupancy of one or more families;
  2. constructed in one or more modules or constructed using one or more modular components built at a location other than the permanent site; and
  3. designed to be used as a permanent residential structure when the module or the modular component is transported to the permanent site and erected or installed on a permanent foundation system.

When I heard this term, I immediately thought what they are really talking about is a modular-built home where the modular components are built off-site and transported to the property where they are placed on a permanent foundation and utilities are hooked up — usually in a matter of days.

The benefits of this type of construction are that they cut down on the disruption in the neighborhood — an ADU can be delivered and installed within days instead of a minimum of 90-plus days that it takes to build using traditional methods.

The good news is that there are companies in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that are already building these, complete with siding, roofs, and finish out that will complete and enhance the existing homes and architecture that we have here. 

Skyline Champion has a building facility in Burleson that can build an ADU like this that I saw at the International Builders Show this year in Las Vegas. 

The URBANEER by Genesis ADUs has a feature that I can’t stop thinking about – a moveable wall with wireless power. This makes it possible to have a larger living space during the day, and with the help of a fold-down bed, you have a spacious bedroom at night. This home feels so much bigger than it is, and has a full kitchen and utility room.

Who needs an ADU?

I think that almost anyone could benefit from having additional space with their homes. With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting Texas as hard as it has, imagine the benefits of having one of these to quarantine in. Or a place where elderly parents can live a few steps away without living under your roof.

You could also use your ADU to entertain friends and family at home, or how about as a place where you can home school your kids and create an exceptional learning environment.

This change could be such a good thing for Dallas in so many ways, and I am looking forward to learning and sharing more on this topic. For more information, you can check out the City of Dallas web page on the issue, and I have heard that they will also be doing some virtual town meetings to explore further and explain the potential changes in the codes.

Heritage Oak Cliff and Dallas City Council Member Chad West will be holding a Zoom conference on August 18 to share more information.

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Lifestylist® Suzanne Felber

Lifestylist® Suzanne Felber is one of those lucky people who truly loves what she does. By helping consumers discover their “inner-stylist”, Felber has helped thousands of homeowners design their own spaces to reflect their personalities and their lifestyles. Felber lives in her own Home Idea Factory - a circa 1942 factory that previously housed a printing company in Oak Cliff. She and her brood of rescue cats and dogs have been busy using the building as the perfect place to try out different ideas and products that she is excited to share here.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Alex Darian says

    Suzanne; bravo! I have been an advocate of tiny dwellins for nearly 10 years! Sad that Travis County/Austin and Denton Cty/DFW are the only areas that actively allow building in/around city limits. The scream from high-end n’hoods will be that ADU’s will be used for Air BnB and VRBO. But many folks can make income that way, esp in this drastic economy. And it doesn’t hurt that folks want to live small in a big city. SO MANY good things from something so small~ Not everything is better because its bigger in TX! Thank you for sharing and I am very interested in the upcoming zoom mtg w/HOC & Chad West on Mon. Can you share that information? Thx again for your article! Alex Darian, Realtor and purveyor of the TIny Home Life

    • mmLifestylist® Suzanne Felber says

      Thank you so much Alex for the kind reply – you made my day! This is so necessary, and I’m proud of my councilman Chad West and The City of Dallas are taking the initiative to make sure that this is done properly and enhances the quality of life in Dallas. Lots more to come!

  2. Jay N. says

    Susan, Thank you for this article. This is a very prescient issue in the city.
    The main “concern” with ADUs is that we want to be sure that they are in fact being used for immediate family members or the primary homeowner and NOT being used as “rental units” to create passive income for the property owner.

    • mmLifestylist® Suzanne Felber says

      Jay, I agree with your concern about this being about income properties and not about immediate family dwellings. I’m looking forward to teh City being very transparent and clear about what can and can’t be done – there’s a lot of work ahead of us still to do! I hope that you will continue to be active in the discussion.

  3. CCR says

    My concern is the amount of housing – main home + ADU that covers a ‘lot.’ So much of our land is needed for water absorption. That’s why there are rules for builders to cover only a specified amount of any lot.

    Off-hand, it may be appropriate for lots that are at least 1/2 acre. So many lots around be are less, and there is not enough space on most to adequately add an ADU.

    You mention Austin: Austin also has mandated driveways, depending, again, on the size of the lot, to be

    • mmLifestylist® Suzanne Felber says

      CCR, your point is why the city needs to be involved with this so we can have the right product built in the right place. There are homes in my Oak Cliff neighborhood that have huge additions that were added on to them in the middle of the night (literally). We need the right guidelines so that the city can manage this. I hope that you will get involved and add your voice.

  4. mmKaren Eubank says

    This has been common for decades. Back houses, carriage houses, guest quarters. It’s a new verse of a very old song. There is absolutely nothing to be alarmed about, it’s all a good thing. When the law was passed a few years ago, it specified how large they could be. And frankly, there is nothing wrong with them being income properties. They exist all over Dallas right now in the forms I mentioned. My cousin in San Francisco built one with the sole intent of eventually moving into it when she needed more income and renting out her primary home. It will allow her to remain on her own property and still pay the outrageous property taxes.

  5. Beth says

    ADUs change the nature of a SF neighborhood. When you buy a house and choose your neighborhood, it can be dramatically changed by adding more traffic, humans, noise, transient renters, pets, and more cars parked on a street.

    Crime watch groups are encouraged to know their neighbors. This becomes more difficult when you change the very nature of a neighborhood when you add a population that has high turnover. Just because you would be cognizant who is renting on your property, do not assume that other homeowners are as discerning as you.

    Buying a home is buying a neighborhood just as much as buying a house. Suddenly what seemed like a static neighborhood changes with a flip of ordinances by politicians. Your purchase of a home is the most expensive investment you make, and with the vote of a council person who doesn’t live in your neighborhood, all of that changes. That does not seem right to me. Carriage houses were built with the house, and typically housed a live- in servant.

    Austin has increasingly become less attractive due to the jumble on lots and density.

    As is typical today, there is only promotion of a idea. No critical analysis of pro and con of an idea. No analysis of quality of life or how the concept ages.

    • mmLifestylist® Suzanne Felber says

      Beth, San Francisco is very different than Dallas, and the city is trying to write the right zoning and ordinances that reflect what Dallas needs and wants. This isn’t geared to “transient renters” or a population that would have a high turnover. With so many of us now working from home, it would be ideal to have space away from kids who are now learning at home and a new baby to go to and be able to run your business – a “Zoom Room.” or how wonderful would it be to have a room where you could set up to be an at-home schoolroom. Selfishly, I would use mine as a craft studio, or a wine tasting room. With as many COVID cases as we have been seeing, it would be invaluable to be able to have a safe place at home to quarantine without putting others in harms way. This isn’t something that would be in the back of every home, but it would be great to have an option to do this in a way that could be understood by all that are interested, and that is what Chad and the city are trying to do.

  6. Connie White says

    You cannot change the zoning of any property that is Recorded by Deed and created by original Subdivision plats. The property owners who paid for single family zoned residential property did not purchase multi family property. The neighboring property owners did not want to live in a multi family neighborhood or they would not have purchased a single family residential property. If the original zoning already allows ADU’s, then so do the neighbors properties.
    The city should focus on those neighborhoods that already allow it and not waste taxpayer money on studies to remove property rights from current property owners in order to help builders make money. The City should defund all TIF builders who have abused the system and not provided the affordable housing as intended and agreed to but instead pay small loophole fines.
    These are basic property rights that go with the land in every state, including Texas.
    Texans besides me will fight for our property rights.

    • mmLifestylist® Suzanne Felber says

      Connie from what I have read, these would remain single-family homes. The original ordinance can be read here: https://dallascityhall.com/departments/sustainabledevelopment/planning/DCH%20Documents/code%20amendments/ADUs/30930_BDA_ADU_Ord.PDF
      and it states must be owner-occupied unless it is registered with the city’s single-family non-owner renter-occupied program, just like any home in your neighborhood can be rented if it is applicable. You obviously have strong feelings about this, I hope that you will help come up with a solution that will work for everyone.

      • Connie says

        As licensed Texas real estate broker for 40 years, YES, I feel very strongly about property rights for myself and others!
        If you add an additional full time housing unit to a single family lot that has no recorded deed restrictions allowing an accessory dwelling unit, you no longer have a single family lot! You have changed the original recorded deed and subdivision plats without offering any compensation for the loss in value to the property owners who purchased a deeded property and violating their property rights.

  7. mmKaren Eubank says

    I know plenty of Air B n B and VRBO hosts. Air b nb and VRBO ALLOWS people to PAY property taxes or honestly, they’d have to leave Dallas. Whoever thought once their home was paid off, they’d have to essentially pay rent to live there? Yes, these folks pay hotel taxes. And guess what? They HELP their NEIGHBORS because many neighborhoods have small homes that don’t accommodate visitors and family members that frankly cannot afford hotels or want to avoid the communal aspect of them in these times and value this service, because they want to see new babies, to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays. This is actually a community service. So, of course, there are a FEW idiots that once in awhile abuse the rules but, in general, the simple fact VRBO and AIR BNB exist, have allowed many people to travel and allowed the hosts to remain in their own home. So think this through. If it had not been for this service, I’d not have been able to travel, nor to take my son on auditions around America for college. There are plenty of people moving here that want to sample neighborhoods before purchasing a home. This is a GREAT way to do so. This is a GOOD thing. The overwhelming majority of hosts are wonderful neighbors that would NEVER compromise YOUR safety or their own.

    • mmLifestylist® Suzanne Felber says

      Karen the people that you are talking about are doing that legally, correct? That is why we need to get the zoning and ordinances in place that are clear what people can and can not do. I think it would be great if you could organize some of those Air B n B and VRBO owners to get involved in this. ADUs are popular in California because of what you are saying – it is so expensive to own a home and pay the taxes, people are living in their cars. We need better solutions for housing people and for ways to allow people to be able to afford to stay in their homes. Let’s have Dallas be the model that other cities copy.

  8. PeterTx52 says

    Now I know what to call the building next to my house — an ADU, built about the same time as the house around 1958
    just need to get electricity in it an d water

  9. Olive Talley says

    As is so often the case, the devil is in the details. Currently, the city has an ordinance on the books that allows neighbors to “opt-in” to do this. Plus, people can appeal to the Board of Adjustment for doing this. This potentially opens the door for more STRS (i.e. AirBNBs) and we’ve already got huge issues with that in our neighborhood where a home is used exclusively for that purpose. It’s a party house for 16 and every weekend, they crank up the noise and music, block the sidewalks to cram as many cars as possible into their parking area. There’s more to this and it isn’t as rosy as you’d think. There are long-term ramifications for de-stabilizing stable, single-family home neighborhoods. Please consider all the details as you think about this.

    • mmKaren Eubank says

      Air b n b is fighting to get these people off the books. Let me tell you right now, short term rentals are nothing to worry about. With the pandemic most of the bad actors have gone bankrupt as they bought up apartment blocks to lease out and could not pay mortgages. A natural weeding out is happening that was much needed.

      • Olive Talley says

        Sorry, but I simply don’t agree. There are still plenty of bad actors out there with AirBNBs, including two just blocks from me. The owner does not live there and rents it as a party house for 16. There is no concern for the noise, parking and other impacts on our neighborhood. It’s a hotel in the middle of a quiet residential area, which new people coming in and out each week. According to a report given to the ZOAC committee just today, this will effectively change single family zoning to duplex zoning. This has the potential to eliminate single family zoning. It needs wide public discussion and not done in a hurry under the cover of COVID when real public meetings cannot be held. This is far more complex than a simple granny flat or a small home for a relative or a caregiver.

  10. Ed Zahra says

    ADU’s have no place in single-family zoned neighborhoods

    When I bought my home in Hollywood Heights, it was for the single-family zoning that I thought the City would protect. Nowhere in my deed did I see that it could change because of a need for “affordable housing” or “home for elders”, “home office” or a “need for extra income”, etc. The city ( nor my neighbors ) have no right, as Connie White stated, to place a blanket “By -right” overlay for ADU’s on every neighborhood in Dallas. Once you add a prefab trailer ” Manufactured Housing” or new build to a residential lot with separate utility service, it’s now a MULTI-FAMILY use no matter what lipstick you put on the pig. Once you allow one to be built, more will follow. And for a neighborhood to “Opt-out”, the onus is placed on residents with only 30 days to have meetings, solicit surveys and complete the petition process. That timeframe is unrealistic with the Virtual meetings and no contact protocol we are under. The woeful four question survey sent out in June missed the most important question: Are you in favor of an ADU in your neighborhood if it means giving up your single-family zoning? No way! Nada! Hell No! Fuggedaboutit!

  11. mmKaren Eubank says

    Many neighborhoods in East Dallas and Oak Cliff have homes built in the 1920s that were purpose-built with two front doors so people could take in boarders, which allowed many to stay in their homes during the Depression. The historic homes, on Swiss and Munger, have carriage houses that were also purpose-built to house servants. So you see “Multi-family” housing in single-family neighborhoods has always existed. As for creating a new structure, I think people don’t realize the cost of running water or electricity to another building on site is cost-prohibitive for most people. So this is a bit of Chicken Little scenario. The sky is NOT falling. People are not going to have the financial resources to do this and if you’ve ever been a landlord, that’s a whole nest of issues and problems. While it may seem appealing, I guarantee you it is not. I had a long term rental property and all it takes is one bad renter, then you have no stomach for it. If you have an existing structure, you should be able to use it as you like and many people do rent out their “back houses”, for both long and short term renters. There is simply nothing wrong with an on-site owner doing this so they can oversee any potential problems. I can tell you for a fact, large estate properties do what they want. Right now there are multiple structures with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and full kitchens being built behind some of our large estates. Wealthy families are housing the college kids and the grandparents all on the same property in individual structures. Again, the sky is NOT falling.

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