You have likely read about the new legislation pertaining to backyard cottages or mother-in-law apartments in our city. The Seattle City Council unanimously passed legislation (Council Bill 119544) on July 1 that will make it easier for more property owners to build backyard cottages (detached accessory dwelling units or DADUs) and basement units (attached accessory dwelling units or AADUs) and therefore provide more housing options for people living in Seattle.
• Reduces the minimum lot size required to build a DADU on a single-family lot from 4,000 square feet to 3,200 square feet.
• Increases the maximum size of DADUs from 800 square feet to 1,000 square feet, excluding any parking or storage areas.
• Removes the owner-occupancy requirement for ADUs.
• Removes the off-street parking requirement for ADUs.
• Allows two ADUs on one lot (either one attached and one detached, or two attached) if the second ADU meets a green building standard or will be affordable to households at or below 80 percent of area median income.
• Increases the maximum household size permitted on a single-family lot from 8 to 12 unrelated people only if the lot includes two ADUs.
• Increases DADU height limits by 1-3 feet, with flexibility for green building strategies
• Allows design flexibility to preserve existing trees and to convert existing accessory structures to a DADU.
• Introduces a floor-area ratio (FAR) limit for all new development in single-family zones with some exemptions (this regulation has a delayed effective date until March 1, 2020).
So, what does all of this mean in layman’s terms and what does this mean to our neighborhood?
One of the biggest changes is that the owner-occupancy requirement for ADUs has been lifted. This will allow for more rentals and unrelated parties to live in ADUs on an owner’s property. For some, this will make homeownership more affordable if they can subsidize costs of homeownership with rental income. I have also heard some clients discuss building either an ADU or DADU for their adult children who are having a hard time purchasing their first homes given Seattle home prices.
On the flip side of this, there is more limitation on the size of home that can be built on lots. New home sizes built on single-family lots in Seattle are limited by the applicable FAR limit. FAR means the floor area coverage ratio based on lot size. The new legislation sets the floor-area ratio limit in single-family zones, which limits how much square footage a house can have in relation to its lot, to 0.5. For example, a single-story house could only have a footprint of half the lot, or a quarter for a two-story house with equal square footage. The City of Seattle website provides specifics on FAR for various lots and also addresses the exceptions and other regulations.
As we have seen, the tearing down and building of new homes in Madison Park and surrounding areas has increased dramatically over the past decade. This new legislation will have a significant impact on what builders and developers can build on any given lot. Whether you are a developer or builder or a homeowner considering tearing down and building, it is important to go to the city website or to consult an expert in this area before making a purchase or assessing the viability of a new build. While Realtors should stay current on these new laws, we are neither licensed nor the proper experts to be giving you advice on what you can and cannot build.
As you can see, overall this legislation offers pros and cons depending on the buyer of a property and their desired use. It is too early to say how this legislation will ultimately impact home and land values in our area, beyond the normal market trends. As a Realtor and former CPA, I look forward to tracking the trends in values and to sharing more in future articles.
Lisa Turnure is a broker and founding member at Coldwell Banker Bain in Madison Park.