accessory dwelling units: should they be legal to rent in Miami Beach?

Could accessory dwelling units (ADUs) be making a comeback in Miami Beach? City Commissioner Ricky Arriola hopes so. He’s asked his colleagues to consider the idea as a means to help homeowners offset their expenses while creating more affordable living options for renters.

According to the website Accessory Dwellings, “An accessory dwelling unit is a really simple and old idea: having a second small dwelling right on the same grounds (or attached to) your regular single-family house, such as an apartment over the garage, a tiny house (on a foundation) in the backyard, a basement apartment.”

“Regardless of its physical form (backyard cottage, basement apartment, etc.), legally an ADU is part of the same property as the main home. It cannot be bought or sold separately, as a condominium or a dwelling on wheels might be. The owner of the ADU is the owner of the main home,” according to the site, a volunteer effort by three Portland, Oregon residents.

ADUs are legal rentals in Florida but not in Miami Beach. At its meeting this month, the City Commission referred Arriola’s idea to allow ADUs to be rented within single-family home districts as long as leases run a minimum of six months and one day to the Land Use and Development Committee for discussion.

Arriola was not aware of the restriction until recently when it was raised by some Mid Beach residents who have older homes with ADUs, something that was very typical here historically. The photo above is of an ADU in the backyard of a Mid Beach home.

“For a long time, this was a way people were able to offset the costs of their homes,” he said. “It helped pay off the mortgage and expenses of your home.”

“As I understand it, with a change in national zoning laws post World War II, it was deemed that single-family homes should be truly single-family homes and not used for commercial purposes,” Arriola explained. “It, sort of, became fashionable among city planners to prohibit the rental for commercial purposes of accessory dwelling units and that doesn’t really make any sense to me. I think people should be able to rent out their unit to a college student or even a senior who doesn’t want to live in a large apartment complex. It helps homeowners pay for their homes, their mortgage. The cost of living is getting more expensive and, on top of that, in a city like ours that’s struggling to find workforce housing, this seems to be a solution.”

“As I started studying the subject, I found out that this is now becoming a new trend in more progressive cities” such as Los Angeles and, just like Los Angeles, land is very expensive here, Arriola said. “We’ve got restrictive zoning laws as it is on density and so people are realizing a part of the solution is to allow accessory dwelling units in single-family neighborhoods.”

In addition to the older homes with units currently on-site, he said, “There are new startups out there that can build very inexpensive ADUs that you can pop into your backyard, 3 to 400 sq ft… with no disruption to neighbors. “Literally they can install these in a day and you don’t have to spend months and months or years and years of construction and disturb your neighbors.”

“That’s a new trend,” he said. “I’m not even advocating for that. I just want to activate our existing ADUs to help our single-family owners who are finding maintaining their homes difficult… It’s a way to create a revenue stream for them so they can reinvest in their homes and make their homes more affordable.” Arriola said he wants to “prevent what we’re seeing, people selling their historic homes” because they can’t afford to maintain them which “end up getting bulldozed and we have these white boxes going up in their place.”

Allowing ADUs would serve multiple purposes, he said, “preserving historic homes, making them more affordable to existing homeowners and maybe new homeowners that have to stretch to buy the house but if they can rent the ADU for $1,000 or $1,500 a month it helps to pay off their mortgage which traditionally is what these ADUs were used for.”

Arriola said this is one of those zoning laws that needs to be rethought as it had “unintended consequences… like making housing unaffordable to the middle class.”

“The most successful cities around the world are densely populated. They’re mixes, inclusionary,” he said. The concept of the suburbs that developed in the mid 20th century is outdated and failing according to Arriola.

“London, Paris, New York City, Washington, DC and Boston, these very old legacy cities are doing extremely well and the places that are struggling are the more modern suburban developments that came online post World War II. Strip shopping malls are shutting down, homes prices have declined,” he said, while now “cities are thriving.” For Arriola, ADUs are one way Miami Beach and its residents can thrive together.


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