Utah opens up opportunities for backyard homes

SALT LAKE CITY — Several cities along the Wasatch Front are reportedly loosening their restrictions on so-called backyard homes.

An article on lists several cities that have recently changed regulations to make it easier for people to build outdoor accessory dwelling units, or ADUs. But this change doesn’t mean people should just start digging foundations.

Cate Klundt, director of government affairs for the Utah Association of Realtors, said there is no single set of rules for ADUs.

“We recommend going directly to your city to check what rules and regulations will apply where your house or plot is located. Regulations and requirements vary greatly from city to city,” Klundt said.

Even when contacting architects and contractors, he says it is worth talking to the city authorities first.

Restrictions and Limitations

Klundt said cities often have different, specific restrictions on outdoor ADUs.

Some yards may not have enough space for the ADU to sit on the property line or meet parking requirements.

Connection requirements are another variable that should be considered and discussed with the city before work begins.

“Some require different meters. Some require completely different connections, (and) others don’t. It depends on whether it is an indoor or outdoor accessory living unit,” Klundt said.

Financial benefits

The regulations can be quite confusing, so you may not have seen many people building ADUs yet. But Klundt said if home prices remain high, people will see them as an attractive option.

“One of the biggest costs of building houses, especially for starters, is land. Land is really, really expensive. Backyard units… you ignore the cost of the land and only talk about the structure and additional installations. This can make it much more cost-effective than trying to build a smaller home elsewhere,” Klundt said.

Family benefits

Klundt says these backyard homes often make sense for families.

“People have children and family members, perhaps aging parents, who need a place to live that isn’t as expensive as renting an apartment or even a single-family home. Therefore, it may be a better alternative for them,” she said.

Klundt also said homesteading family members can also help with mortgage payments and other household expenses while saving for their own homes.

Other states

The practice is already common in other states.

“In other states where building a basement may be more difficult or expensive. For example, I’m thinking about Nevada. They have some really interesting rock that makes it very difficult to build basements… Mother-in-laws and apartments are much more common,” Klundt said.

She said in Utah we typically have apartments in basements and sometimes above garages.

Klundt believes people are gravitating toward the ADU solution because it doesn’t require building new infrastructure.

While this would put an additional burden on our infrastructure, Klundt said, “It’s still much cheaper than building new infrastructure.”


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