What’s an In-Law Suite, and Should You Get One?

If living with family sounds scary to you, the good news is that in-law suites, whether attached to a home or not, give everyone their separate dwelling unit. These properties are wonderful additions for homeowners looking to take care of aging relatives, as they keep family close by yet still in their own independent space.

If you’ve been considering adding an in-law suite to your home, read on to learn about the different types available and how to design an in-law suite perfect for your loved one.

What Is an In-Law Suite?

An in-law suite, or additional dwelling unit (ADU), is an attached or detached structure on the property of your home that serves as a separate living quarters.

Though the term “in-law suite” is sometimes known as a “mother-in-law suite,” they may house more than one family member.

“We are working on an in-law suite right now,” says Eryn Oruncak, an interior designer at Elan Design, LLC. “It was important for our clients to create a space where his 21-year-old daughter and 19-year-old son could freely stay for extended visits—so it’s for the kids-in-law.”

Benefits of In-Law Suites

In-law suites provide homeowners with several benefits like extra income (if using the property as a rental), increased home value, extra storage, or more square footage as a flex space.

But, what many homeowners appreciate them for their aging-in-place benefits. Since in-law suites are either attached or on the same property as an existing home, these inclusions give homeowners easier accessibility to aging parents.

If your parents or in-laws have health that’s starting to decline or you want to have your family around to help with children, in-law suites give your family their own residence.

Types of In-Law Suites

There are two main types of in-law suites: addition/conversion or detached.

Addition/Conversion In-Law Suites

This is the most flexible (and cheapest) way to go about adding an in-law suite to your property since you either add it onto your existing home or convert an unused space.

Additional ADUs work by building the in-law suite onto an area of your existing home whereas conversions take usually the garage, attic, or basement and transform them into the in-law suite. The in-law suite that Oruncak and her team are working on fits this type of ADU.

“This in-law-suite that we’re creating is the entire lower level of the home,” she says. “Having this well-designed lower floor adds to the finished beauty of the two upper floors, creating one massive, beautiful home.”

Detached In-Law Suites

A detached in-law suite is a separate building from the existing home. It’s completely independent and sits in its own spot on the property functions as its own structure.

If you’re wanting to turn your in-law suite into a rental property or have extra privacy, this is the best option since it’s not attached to the main home.

How Much Do In-Law Suites Cost?

The cost to build an in-law suite varies on a few factors. Addition/conversion in-law suites will be cheaper, as you’re not being an entire structure like you do with detached suites.

Size and layout are two other factors in the overall cost of your in-law suite. Just like primary residences, in-law suites are built per square foot—the larger the suite you build, the higher the expense.

Features inside your in-law suite are also going to contribute to the expense. Since many homeowners use in-law suites to function as housing for their parents or in-laws, safety precautions such as handrails or ramps in the bathroom can add costs.

Other local factors in your area will determine in-law suite expenses, but the average for both an attached or detached in-law suite runs between $40,000-$150,000.

Enhancing Safety in an In-Law Suite

Using an in-law suite for parents to age in place? Safety is going to be a top priority for the structure.

“To enhance the safety of an in-law suite, you’ll want to consider accessibility,” Ryan Hoover of Ceed Civil Engineering says. “If possible, have it adjacent to the main floor of your home as opposed to above your garage or on the second floor where stairs would be needed to access it.”

Other safety features he says to add to the unit are smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and an intercom system in the case of an emergency.

Yancy Forsythe of Missouri Valley Homes, adds non-slip flooring, good lighting, and handrails in the bathrooms and hallways as other key features.

Should You Get an In-Law Suite?

You might think an in-law suite is right for you, but local zoning may prevent you from being able to build one. Before building or adding on an in-law suite, check local ordinances at the local zoning office to see if it’s legal for you to build another structure on your property.

If it is legal, then you can decide if an in-law suite is right for you. Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What will I use it for?
  • Do I need extra room?
  • Do I have family I need to take care of?
  • Do I need extra help family can provide?
  • What is my building budget?
  • Do I have enough room on the property for this space?
  • Are there extra safety expenses I will need to add to the structure?

If you have family whose health is declining, you wouldn’t mind having extra hands around to help with your kids, or you’d like to add a rental unit to your property, then an in-law suite might be right for you.

The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. What Is A Mother-In-Law Suite, Raleigh Realty

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