In-law suites have been popular in Las Vegas and throughout this region of the country for decades. Now, they’re becoming increasingly common nationwide, with a 30% increase in construction since 2000. If you don’t recognize the term, it may be because they have many names: in-law suites are also commonly known as mother-in-law suites, granny apartments, or casitas. In simplest terms, they are a small secondary building on your property, traditionally used either as a guest house or a scaled-down home for elderly relatives.

Nowadays, due to an uncertain economy and the fact that many people have become responsible for caring for an aging parent, they’re becoming more popular than ever. In-law suites can be an excellent source of income if rented out, especially for people who need additional cash flow in retirement. For parents, building an in-law suite can allow them to offer a helping hand to a grown child’s family without having to move themselves. They’ll be right on hand to enjoy spending plenty of time with grandchildren, and to help out with babysitting when needed. For those whose elderly parents can no longer manage living alone, in-law suites offer a way to let your parents live with you without having to sacrifice their privacy and independence.

In-law suites consistently add value to the properties they’re built on. If you’ve considered adding one, it’s probably one of the best investments you could make in your home, as well as having plenty of practical benefits. However, before you begin building an in-law suite, there are several things you should know.

Detached In-law Suite

Example of a detached in-law suite.

Types of In-law Suites

FYI: When translated into legalese, in-law suites are called secondary dwelling units. This is the term you’ll want to look for when consulting the zoning laws in your county. There are several different types of secondary dwellings, and the laws may differ for each from county to county. The basic types of secondary dwellings are:

• An apartment over a garage
• A basement apartment
• A unit attached to the main house
• A unit detached from the main house

Basement apartment in-law suite

Example of a basement apartment in-law suite.

What Type of In-Law Suite Should I Consider?

The type of secondary dwelling you build will, of course, depend on many factors.

If your property is relatively small, a garage or basement apartment is probably best, since they won’t take up additional space. However, if you’re building an in-law suite to house an elderly relative, a basement or garage apartment probably won’t work, since your relative would likely have difficulty with the stairs necessary to enter and exit and/or access shared areas.

If you’re building an in-law suite for an elderly relative who requires significant help throughout the day, an attached secondary dwelling would most easily allow you to care for them. On the other hand, if you plan to live in the secondary dwelling yourself, a detached suite would allow you to retain your privacy and autonomy.

If you have a limited construction budget, a garage or basement apartment might be best, since you don’t have to build an entirely new structure, only update an existing space.

Garage apartment in-law suite

Example of a garage apartment in-law suite.

If you’re planning to move an elderly parent or yourself into your new in-law suite, you’ll also want to consider the fact that this will likely require you to line up a Las Vegas dumpster rental and do some significant downsizing to enable you or them to live comfortably in a smaller space.

If you’re planning to rent your secondary dwelling, as you decide what type to build you’ll want to consider where your tenant will park, whether you’ll allow them to use your laundry facilities, whether you will be furnishing the apartment and/or providing appliances, in addition to how well appointed it should be for the rent you plan to charge.

These are some general guidelines to help kick start your decision-making process. Of course, you’re ultimate decision will need to take into account specific aspects of your property and lifestyle, as well as the laws in your area.

Attached in-law suite

Example of an attached in-law suite.

Zoning Laws for Secondary Dwellings in Las Vegas

In most counties in the Las Vegas area, secondary dwellings are looked on favorably because they offer an easy and practical way to broaden the tax base, while also alleviating problems like housing shortages and the hardships of elder care. However, while most municipalities do allow homeowners to build a secondary dwelling on their property, there are, of course, many zoning laws to take into consideration before you draw up your plans.

• In nearly all cases, secondary dwellings are required to have their own kitchen and bathroom facilities. They cannot share these spaces with the main house. However, spaces like laundry rooms and garages generally can be shared if desired.

• In most cases, secondary dwellings must have access to off-street parking.

• In nearly all cases, secondary dwellings must have water and sewer systems that are separate from the main house. They must also have access to a septic system, although this can generally be shared with the main house, provided the system can handle the addition.

• Some counties may only allow attached secondary dwellings. In such cases, the secondary dwelling must have a locking door separating it from the main house and its own outside entrance.

• Some counties only allow secondary dwellings to be built on certain classes of properties, or on properties over a specific acreage.

• Some counties may limit who can live in a secondary dwelling. For example, only relatives of the homeowner, only a single tenant, etc.

• In most cases, the owner of the property must continue to live on the property, whether in the main house or the secondary dwelling. You cannot move away and rent out both buildings.

You May Make Enemies of Your Neighbors

Building an in-law suite

Although more and more homeowners have a desire–or need–to build an in-law suite on their property, neighbors in many communities are dead set against the idea of anyone building a secondary dwelling in their neighborhood, no matter if the law allows it. Rather than appreciating the practical benefits of such units, they take a “there goes the neighborhood” attitude.

Many fear that in-law suites will be an eye-sore and lead to traffic congestion. Many are wary of owners renting out secondary dwellings as cheap college housing, bringing hordes of rowdy teenagers to wreck the peace of a suburban community. Some fear that secondary dwellings will lower the property values in a neighborhood, or relatedly (and condescendingly) that owners will rent to the “wrong kind of people.”

So, when making the decision to build an in-law suite, be aware that some of your neighbors may protest—loudly and perhaps even legally. However, as long as you’ve obeyed all the appropriate zoning laws there’s not much they can do other than give you the cold shoulder.

Building an In-law suite

As long as you think carefully about the type of secondary dwelling that would work best for your property and situation and obey all the relevant zoning laws, building an in-law suite can provide you with a solution to a number of problems. They can provide an extra source of income if money grows tight. They can allow you to help a grown child start a family without going into debt. They can give an elderly parent the dignity of retaining their privacy while still getting the help they need. And they can even provide peace of mind for you, knowing that if you one day need help as you age, you have a ready-made alternative to a costly senior care facility.

We can’t help you build an in-law suite, but we can help you clean up the mess left over from construction and downsizing. We offer the best deals on dumpster rentals in Las Vegas, and the most efficient way to get rid of construction debris.