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Staff urges rejection of ADU ‘poison pill’

Memo says requiring owner occupancy of properties with an accessory dwelling unit would discourage creation of affordable housing and not solve nuisance property issues.

An illustration from the AARP showing some possible attached accessory dwelling unit configurations.

Evanston’s Plan Commission tonight will discuss a proposal to allow attached and internal accessory dwelling units only at owner-occupied properties.

The plan is being pushed by Ald. Clare Kelly (1st). She was joined in voting to refer it to the Plan Commission by Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) and Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th).

Kelly claims the restriction, which she had suggested as an emergency moratorium, would guard against creation of ADUs by absentee landlords intending to overcrowd properties with Northwestern University students.

But in a memo to the commission, Community Development Director Johanna Nyden and other city staff say their research shows that several communities — including Seattle and Yakima, Washington, and Ann Arbor, Michigan — have recently removed ownership restrictions from their ADU ordinances after concluding they were a “poison pill” that hampered the development of ADUs.

City Council members, in voting over the past few years to gradually ease prior city restrictions on ADUs, have argued that the the coach houses or granny flats represent one way to encourage creation of more affordable housing in the city.

The staff memo says Portland, Oregon, has allowed rental of both primary and accessory units since 1996 and officials there report having no more maintenance issues with those properties than with owner-occupied properties containing an ADU.

The memo also says some states, including Oregon and Washington, have banned cities from imposing owner-occupancy restrictions on ADUs.

And it says the AARP has recently revised its model ADU code to eliminate owner occupancy, parking requirements and other restrictions.

The new AARP recommendations say, “Owner occupancy covenants or conditions give pause to homeowners and institutions financing home purchases because of the limits they place on successive owners, who will not be able to rent out or lease their main house, which might be necessary as a result of a divorce, job transfer or death.”

It adds that the practical impact of an owner-occupancy provision “is to inhibit construction of most ADUs.”

The staff memo says having an owner-occupancy restriction would also discourage property owners from complying with city requirements that ADUs be registered with the city for legal rental, leading to more units that would not undergo inspections that could identify life-safety violations.

The memo suggests the city look to other strategies for addressing complaints about behavioral issues in rental properties, including increased staffing for property standards inspections and revisions to the city’s nuisance premises ordinance.

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