About Granny Flats

Granny flats are a type of accommodation that is built into or near a main dwelling and are usually occupied by an older member of the family that lives in the house.

Other Names

Many families find that granny flats suit their elderly members well, as they afford both a certain amount of independence and the safety of proximity.

Granny flats are known by several names, which vary by region or property type. Synonymous terms include in-law apartment, garage apartment, carriage house and, most formally, accessory dwelling unit. They differ from guest houses and servant's quarters in that they are meant to be lived in full-time by a member of the family.

History and Features

The ancestor of the granny flat is the dowager house. When the heir of an estate was ready to inherit the house, the widow of the former owner would often move to a smaller dwelling on the property. This was called the dowager house and was meant to allow the widow to continue to live on the property she had lived on for years and remain close to her family, while also maintaining her independence and not feeling as though she were in the way of the new official owners of the house. In urban areas, the dowager house gave way to the granny flat, which is a smaller version of the dowager house and is often physically attached to the main house. The features of granny flats differ depending on their size and situation, but they all contain at least a bedroom and small bathroom and some even have their own small kitchen and sitting room.

Attached Granny Flats

Nowadays, most granny flats are attached to the main house somehow. Some are simply a suite on the ground floor of a house, sometimes with a private entrance. These are essentially like a master bedroom, but with direct access to the outside. Other attached granny flats are more like a guest house, complete with a small kitchen. These are like a wing of the house, attached to the main house by a communicating door or hallway. Attics or basements are sometimes converted into granny flats, provided that the occupant can deal with stairs.

Detached Granny Flats

Many granny flats, especially on older properties, are detached from the main house. Some older houses or houses that sit on large lots have a separate granny flat out back, usually near the end of the backyard. This affords the occupant increased privacy and independence, while still being close enough to participate in the life of the family and for the family to keep an eye on their family member. Another common spot for a granny flat is above the garage. These are usually found on garages that are detached from the house, though there are exceptions.

Legal Issues and Zoning

There are zoning laws and occupancy regulations governing granny flats, which vary from place to place. Most communities have regulations regarding how big a granny flat can be, whether or not extra parking is required and where a granny flat can be located. There are also laws regarding whether or not rent can be charged and how much. Most municipalities require that the granny flat be considered part of the main dwelling and be under the same ownership; this means that single-family dwelling occupant density regulations apply. Owners of a granny flat or those looking to build one are responsible for knowing the regulations that apply in their community.

About the Author

Alexis has been a freelance writer since 2005. She is a regular contributor to her local newspaper, the "Ventura County Star," writing for the real estate, automotive and TimeOut sections. She has a degree in print journalism from Cal State Long Beach.