Many families need to bring someone into their home—either to care for a relative or to rent a room. The loss of privacy and personal space can be difficult on family members, and the changes in lifestyle often add stress to the home.

Some recent developments in Ann Arbor’s zoning laws may provide a welcome relief for homeowners who open their house to new tenants.


The City of Ann Arbor recently lifted some of the restrictions on accessory dwelling units (ADUs), making 16,000 properties eligible to add an ADU to their home. These changes open the doors for new renovation opportunities.

Let’s explore ADUs and how they can enhance your property.


What Is an Accessory Dwelling Unit?

An accessory dwelling unit — often known as a mother-in-law apartment or a granny flat — is a second small dwelling on the property of your home. It can be attached to the house, or detached. ADUs are often used to provide independent housing for a family member who needs to be close by, such as an elderly parent or an adult child with special needs.

ADUs are usually an attached apartment, an apartment over the garage, or a basement apartment. Legally, it belongs to the property of the main home and can not be bought or sold separately.

Accessory dwellings aren’t new—they were common more than 100 years ago, but fell out of use in the mid-1900s. But ADUs are growing in popularity again, as elderly family members look for ways to avoid moving into nursing homes.


ADUs As Income Sources

There are also rental opportunities that an ADU can provide, and they’re a great fit for a college town like Ann Arbor. The zoning laws allow qualifying homeowners to use an accessory dwelling as a rental property. The privacy of a small, independent living situation away from student housing is ideal for many college students—especially graduate students.

As age-in-place homes and accessory dwelling units become more popular, adding an ADU to your home can be a smart investment opportunity, as well. However, it’s always best to check with a knowledgeable realtor who can advise you on your specific property.


Ann Arbor Zoning Restrictions

While Ann Arbor’s zoning laws have been loosened to encourage more development of ADUs, there are several restrictions that are important to note. You can find the details in the city’s Accessory Dwelling Unit Guidebook, but it’s worth highlighting the major points. To be eligible for an ADU on your property:


  • The property must be located within specific zoning districts. You can view a map here.
  • The lot must be at least 5,000 square feet.
  • Detached units must be added onto a structure (such as a detached garage) that existed before December 31, 2016.
  • Certain setback and parking requirements must be followed.
  • The ADU cannot be leased or rented for less than 30 days. This rules out the possibility of using an ADU for Airbnb®.


Thoughtful Design and Exceptional Craftsmanship

An accessory dwelling unit may be a small-scale residence, but it’s also a home. Whether it’s an addition to your house or to your garage, it has an aesthetic impact that shouldn’t be underestimated. At Giraffe Design Build we believe that we have a responsibility to delight our clients and the community at large. No matter what size the project, we endeavor to create something of beauty and resonance.

Even small additions have a tremendous influence on our psyche and sense of satisfaction. Giraffe strives to deliver structures that recognize that fact.

If you’re looking for an accessory dwelling unit with inspired designed and skillful craftsmanship, Giraffe Design Build will approach the project with all of the thoughtfulness that we give to every other project. We’ll help you select a design that fits your home while honoring the character of your neighborhood—while creating a delightful living space that marries functionality and design.

Contact us for a price breakdown on your accessory dwelling unit project.