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Ask the Remodeler- Can We Add An In-Law Apt?

Posted: 13 August 2011

I would like to have my mother-in-law come to live with us but she would need her own space where she can be self-sufficient. Can I add on an in-law apartment to my home? M.V. (Ridgefield, CT)


older lady with hat on a benchDear MV,


Possibly, but you have to jump through a few more hoops than you do if you are just building a regular addition to your single family home.


Ridgefield will be a nice place for your Mom to live. In Ridgefield, an in-law apartment would be referred to as an “Accessory Dwelling Unit” in the municipal codes, and is limited to a size of 900 sq ft or less.


You need to meet all the requirements of the various town departments including the Conservation Commission/Wetlands, Zoning, Health and Building Departments. The requirements for the Building Dept and Wetlands are the same as for any other accessory structure or addition.


However, specific Health and Zoning regulations may apply to an Accessory Dwelling Unit.


The Health Dept requirements differ depending on whether the ADU is within or attached to your existing residence or a physically distinct (detached) structure. The Town Sanitarian will evaluate the size of your existing septic system, and whether it has been designed to support the requirements of your home with the ADU and will let you know if changes to the septic system will be required.


If the Accessory Dwelling Unit is not physically connected to the main residence, special applications may be necessary to both the Town Health Dept and State Health Dept which go beyond the question of whether the existing system is sized to handle the additional occupancy, since it is necessary to apply for a waiver to a statutory requirement that accessory buildings need their own septic systems.


With regards to Zoning, you need to meet the requirements that are in place for any addition or accessory structure in terms of lot density and setbacks, plus you need to obtain a Special Zoning Approval to have an Accessory Dwelling Unit.


There are three ways of obtaining this Special Zoning Approval for an ADU. Two of the options  restrict who can live in the ADU, and require only an administrative review. A less restrictive approval can be obtained, but this requires a public hearing by the Planning and Zoning Commission. The time frame in which you need to get space prepared for your mother-in-law may effect which of these avenues you wish to pursue.


The two options which require only an administrative review are a “Senior ADU” where you must have someone 55 or over in the unit, an “Affordable ADU option” where you agree to a 10 year deed restriction to maintain the ADU as an affordable housing unit, can charge only a certain amount of rent, and are only allowed to have someone in there whose income is 80% or less of the area’s median income.


The least restrictive approval requires the owner of the property to live in either the house or the ADU, and does not limit the age or income of the ADU resident.


This blog provides a brief overview of the zoning regs, and you should review the detailed information provided by  Ridgefield Zoning.


It will make your life easier if you choose someone to work with who is experienced at handling the intricacies of the Town Departments as they pertain to the requirements for Accessory Dwelling Units and other permitting matters. Good luck!






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