October 19, 2023

Are ADUs and Backyard Homes Legal in Atlanta? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Argi Avetisyan
Argi Avetisyan
Gather ADU expert
Are ADUs and Backyard Homes Legal in Atlanta? Here’s Everything You Need to Know
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Urban development and the housing landscape are continually changing. One trend at the forefront of this evolution is the growing interest in Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and backyard homes. Before plunging into this exciting venture, it's paramount to grasp the legalities involved, especially in bustling cities like Atlanta.

Defining ADUs and Guest Houses

First and foremost, what exactly is an ADU? An ADU, or Accessory Dwelling Unit, serves as a secondary housing unit on a single-family residential lot. It's distinct from the main residence and can range in design and functionality. While the terms "ADU" and "guest house" might seem interchangeable, they are starkly different in both intent and regulation.

An ADU's size is constricted to a maximum of 750 SF. In contrast, guest houses in Atlanta can occupy up to 30% of the main house's area on the same lot. A distinguishing feature is the ADU's permission to house a complete cooking facility, while guest houses can't incorporate built-in stoves – though they can have impressive wet bars. Another crucial distinction is that ADUs can be rented out for long durations. However, guest houses in Atlanta aren’t legally approved for such leases, unless the occupant plays a specific role like that of a watchman or servant.

When considering how an ADU impacts property statistics, remember that they count towards the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of your plot. It indicates that the larger your ADU, the smaller the main house you can construct. But, most existing homes in Atlanta haven’t exhausted their allowed square footage, so this is often a non-issue.

Legal Parameters for Owning an ADU in Atlanta

Understanding the legal boundaries of owning an ADU in Atlanta is essential. Let’s delve into the specifics:

Ownership: An ADU cannot be sold independent of the main residence. It remains an "accessory" to the primary house.

Unit Limitation: Only two units, inclusive of the ADU, are allowed on the property.

Commercial Use: ADUs aren't meant for commercial undertakings, barring home-based occupations.

Size Constraints: ADUs must stick to the 750 SF size limit.

Lot Specifications: There’s no minimum lot size prerequisite for an ADU, but creating a substandard lot in the city isn't permitted.

Access and Parking: Direct access roads aren't necessary, nor are specific parking slots designated for the ADU.

Zoning Criteria for ADUs in Atlanta

Diving into zoning, Atlanta permits ADUs on R-5, R-4, and R-4A-zoned lots. A significant update in 2017 now allows a lot to be split in a zero lot-line manner. This change enables each unit of a duplex to have a distinct ADU. However, overarching constraints like lot coverage and square footage, determined by the zone, still apply.

To decode some of the zoning terminologies:

Height Limit: ADUs can’t exceed 20 feet in height.

Rear Yard Coverage: The ADU can cover a maximum of 25% of the rear yard.

Lot Coverage: The combined structures can't occupy more than 55% of the total lot.

Floor Area Ratio (FAR): The ADU and main house combined should only account for 50% of the total lot area, though there's a relaxation up to 65% for lots under 7,500 SF.

Setbacks: ADUs must maintain a consistent distance from neighboring homes, akin to the main residence. Their side and rear setbacks are stipulated at 4 feet, versus the conventional 7 feet.

Navigating the Complexity of ADU Zoning and Regulations

Grasping the ins and outs of ADU regulations in Atlanta can appear overwhelming, especially when terms like "FAR" and "setbacks" come into play. However, it's crucial to be knowledgeable about these facets to avoid pitfalls and legal snags down the line.

If you’re scratching your head trying to understand if your home meets the specific zoning criteria for an ADU, you're not alone. Many homeowners find these regulations intricate. But, expert help is available to demystify these complexities and guide you in determining the feasibility of adding an ADU to your property.

Conclusion for Atlanta ADUs vs Guest Houses

In the dynamic realm of housing and urban development, ADUs represent an intriguing blend of functionality, innovation, and potential financial growth. Their rising appeal, especially in cities like Atlanta, underscores the need for homeowners to be well-informed and prepared. With the proper guidance and a keen understanding of local regulations, the dream of having a backyard home in Atlanta is not just attainable, but can also be a rewarding experience. If you're unsure about any of the steps or regulations, always consult with an expert to ensure that your ADU project in Atlanta proceeds without a hitch.

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