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The City Journals

Mother-in-law apartments coming to a neighborhood near year

Aug 16, 2021 09:51AM ● By Zak Sonntag

By Zak Sonntag | [email protected]

Holladay City is on the verge of a new land-use ordinance that will open the door on so-called mother-in-law apartments, rental units created within the footprint of traditional single-family homes, formally known as Internal Accessory Dwelling Units (IADUs). It’s a move that affordable housing advocates say is overdue, and it comes in response to a mandate by the state legislature that effectively leaves the city no choice. 

“This was pushed down to us because of an affordable housing crisis. [The state] is trying to do something that actually addresses the ability of younger families to get into houses, and mother-in-law apartments are a way to do that,” said Holladay City Attorney Todd Godfrey, during a council hearing.

The state’s strong-armed action is an attempt to slow the breakneck rise in the cost of housing by the simple logic of supply and demand: any additions to the state’s housing stock will help alleviate pressure on low- and middle-income Utahans beset by runaway costs. 

“I’m strongly in favor of the city allowing [IADUs]. Between the crazy market and the uncertainty of an inflationary economy, this need is urgent,” said Holladay resident Scott Frank, speaking in support at a council hearing. 

The 2021 law, HB82, wipes out many municipal prohibitions on mother-in-law style apartments and requires cities to permit them in at least 75% of their single-family residential zones. 

“Instead of making a government program that subsidizes a few more affordable units, we need to structure our laws so housing can flourish where it needs to. Also, I strongly feel that a property owner is using their own property in a way that they believe fits, and the city shouldn’t prohibit it by zoning.” said the bill’s author, Rep. Ray Ward, speaking with the Journal by phone. “This is a way to gently increase density and keep character while allowing more places to live which we badly need.”

The bill also gives cities the ability to enforce higher standards on such units as a way to protect the safety and character of neighborhoods, including granting cities more enforcement power against landlords operating short-term rentals. Albeit, the 25% exemption provision presents a conundrum for officials in Holladay, who worried it had the potential to arbitrarily create “winners and losers” and discriminatory redlines against homeowners who want the option of creating another source of income.

“I’m not in favor of a 25% (provision) because it will create a have and have-nots, and the have-nots would be the very people I would want to help,” said councilmember Dan Gibbons, referring to older residents on fixed incomes who would benefit from an additional revenue stream like those generated from a IADU rentals. 

The city weighed the issue in June, then kicked it to the planning commission, where the debates focused around fees and how to treat households already operating illicit IADUs, of which there are a substantial number, according to the commission. 

“I think we need to be more proactive in incentivizing these existing IADUs to come forward. Those numbers from a political perspective are going to have value. So when we report back to the state, we can say Holladay is doing something. I would be in favor of waiving the registration fee to encourage them to [become fully legal],” said Alyssa Lloyd, planning commissioner      

The commission forwarded a recommendation to the council to proceed with conditionalities, namely that existing mother-in-law apartment landlords have origination fees waived, under the logic that it will coax them out of the shadows and help establish a uniform health and safety standard for rentals across the city. 

Now the issue is back before the council. It will hammer out the details with the goal of codifying a new ordinance in August.