In late 2009, the City of Seattle legalized backyard cottages for the entire city of Seattle expanding on a successful multi-year pilot in a portion of the city. The new law affects as many as 100,000 city lots which are Single Family zoned and at least 4000 SF, and there is no annual cap on the number that can be built.
from the city website:
In March 2009, Mayor Greg Nickels has proposed legislation that would allow more homeowners the option to build backyard cottages. Under the proposal, Seattle homeowners would be allowed to build backyard cottages under certain conditions. The owner must live on the premises and there would be an annual limit of 50 new cottages.
To ensure the cottages fit within the neighborhood, the lot must be at least 4,000 square feet in area, with minimum width and depth requirements. The principal house and backyard cottage combined must not exceed the current 35% lot coverage limit for single family zones. The cottages can be no more than 800 square feet in area, with a height limit of 15 – 23 feet depending on lot width, and parking is required.
What is a backyard cottage?
As one homeowner describes it, a backyard cottage is a “mother-in-law unit with a little more breathing room.”
In other words, a backyard cottage is a small dwelling unit that is on the same lot as, but physically separate from, a single-family house. The owner must live in either the primary home or the backyard cottage.
Since 1994, the city of Seattle has allowed accessory dwelling units that are inside, or attached to the main house. Backyard cottages (which are officially known as detached accessory dwelling units) are detached from the main house and typically found in either the backyard or above a garage.
Are backyard cottages allowed in Seattle?
In March 2009, Mayor Nickels proposed new legislation to allow backyard cottages citywide. Homeowners throughout Seattle have requested this housing option. Backyard cottages have been allowed in southeast Seattle since 2006; with 18 households applying for permits as of March 18, 2009. (now legal throughout the city)
Where else can you find backyard cottages?
Many other cities and jurisdictions in Washington State and the Pacific Northwest allow backyard cottages, including Clyde Hill, Issaquah, Kirkland, Mercer Island, Shoreline, Newcastle, Redmond, parts of unincorporated King County, Woodinville, Yarrow Point, and Portland, OR.
What has the experience been in southeast Seattle?
In a survey of 118 neighbors living near a permitted backyard cottage in southeast Seattle, 96 respondents felt that the owners of single-family homes should be allowed to build a backyard cottage on their property. Because many backyard cottages are not visible from the street, more than half the residents living nearby weren’t actually aware that one had been built. Most neighbors who knew about the backyard cottage felt it either had a positive impact or no impact on their neighborhood.
Among those aware of a backyard cottage in their neighborhood:
• 71% said that the backyard cottage in their neighborhood fit in with the surrounding homes.
• 84% noticed no impacts on parking or traffic directly related to the backyard cottage.
• 83% were supportive or strongly supportive of backyard cottage policy.
Why the interest in backyard cottages?
Homeowners have many different reasons. For seniors, a backyard cottage offers a way to downsize while living next to their families and staying in the same neighborhood. Others want flexibility for their extended families or friends, a place for their children, or an opportunity to invest in their property while providing affordable housing for singles and couples.
Citywide interest in backyard cottages:
Over the past two years people in other neighborhoods have contacted DPD to inquire about backyard cottages for their property. The following quotes are examples of from recent correspondence:
“Actually the property is my father’s. It is a small three bedroom house and has little spare space. It would be a big help, financially, for all of us if I had a little space (very little is fine) of my own on the property instead of renting and wasting money that could be used to help the family get by. A fully equipped ‘house’ isn’t needed just a sleeping/private space. ”
- Kari Berglund, North Seattle Resident
“We would love to have housing for our aging parents: then, for our son as he becomes a young adult and eventually, as a place for us to downsize to. By having a place for our extended family we could save time and energy caring for one another and have that time and energy to put into our community.”
- Mead Wehle, North Greenwood Resident
“It would be used as a rental to help with our mortgage payment. It would be deliberately designed to be adaptable, able to house relatives while our kids are young and eventually living quarters for a teenager. Ours would also have a portion of the space dedicated for an office, as I am a screenwriter and my wife is a photographer.”
- Kelly Requa, South Park Resident
“I would like to have a place for my mother to stay as she gets older. I think if it is done right, the neighborhood would benefit. Advantages are that family is closer and dollar savings. All while maintaining the peace in the family.”
- Corey Artherholt, Magnolia Resident