Different Types of "Granny Flats"
These housing units may be referred to as Accessory Dwelling Units, granny flats, or mother-in-law suites, and they can be created in a variety of ways. Some of the most popular designs are:
Detached cottages in a family member's backyard
Detached Granny Pod cottages with advanced medical equipment
Attached additions to an existing home, with a private entrance and kitchen
Interior apartments created in an unused basement or attic space
Above garage additions which serve as a separate apartment
Garage conversions in which either an attached or detached garage has been converted into an apartment.
When my own parents could no longer live independently in their Florida retirement community, because of my mother's dementia and my father's difficulty caring for her, they moved to Missouri into an apartment over my sister's four-car garage. Their apartment had a bedroom, sitting room, small office, a large walk-in closet, spacious bathroom and even a small private deck with stairs leading down to the backyard. Their apartment did not have a private kitchen, although they had a mini-fridge and microwave. They generally ate their meals with my sister's family, and my sister had a stair lift (Ad) installed to make it easier for them to get downstairs to the main part of the house. They were much happier with this arrangement than they would have been if they had moved to assisted living, and they really enjoyed the time with my sister and her family.
New Zoning Laws are Making Granny Flats More Common
At one time, these accessory dwelling units were banned in many locations across America because of fears they would become rental properties and increase neighborhood density. However, in the past few years, some states like California, New Hampshire, Vermont, Oregon and Washington have changed their zoning laws in order to allow them again, with some restrictions on size, placement, and whether or not they can be rented out. This loosening of zoning laws has resulted in a resurgence in granny flats and has allowed more than one family to live on a single-family lot. Between January 2017 and June 2019, the City of Los Angeles alone issued building permits for almost 12,000 accessory dwelling units.
How Can You Set Up an Accessory Dwelling Unit on Your Property?
One option is to order a pre-fab home kit (Ad) and have a builder help you put it together and connect the utilities. Check your local county and city regulators to find out what permits and fees are required in order to add a granny flat to your home. There may also be restrictions regarding short-term rentals using services like Airbnb.
Another option is to contact a company like MEDCottage (one example is pictured above) and lease a structure that is designed specifically to meet your family member's medical needs. They will set up a cottage on your property temporarily, and you pay them a monthly rental fee. The company will remove it when your family member no longer needs it. The company describes their units in this way: "The MEDCottage is a mobile, modular medical dwelling designed to be temporarily placed on a caregiver's property for rehabilitation and extended care. Simply stated, it's a state-of-the-art hospital room with remote monitoring available so caregivers and family members have peace of mind knowing they are providing the best possible care." In 2020, a basic MEDCottage can be leased for as little as $750 a month, which is a fraction of the cost of a room in a skilled nursing home.
Another possibility is to hire your own contractor to convert an unused portion of your current home so it is livable, has grab bars in the bathroom, and whatever other equipment your family member might need in order to be comfortable.
Reasons to Consider Adding a Granny Flat to Your Home
What are some of the reasons people are interested in adding an apartment or cottage to their property? In an AARP study published in the May 2020 edition of the AARP Bulletin, they found that people wanted to build additions for these reasons:
Provide a home for a loved one in need of care
Provide housing for relatives or friends
Have a space for guests
Increase the value of their home
Help them feel safer with someone living nearby
Create a place for a caregiver to stay
Provide extra retirement income from renting to a tenant
One reason which was not on their list, but has more recently become a consideration, is the number of people who have died of the Covid-19 coronavirus in nursing homes and other group retirement homes in the spring of 2020. Many families, when they realized how many elderly people were dying in group housing, removed their elderly relatives from these facilities. Being able to provide a place for their loved one, and/or a caregiver, and make it possible for them to live in their own home or apartment, seemed like a safer option than letting them remain in group housing.
What If Your Elderly Relative Needs Medical Supervision?
One reason many seniors are in an assisted living facility is because they need close medical supervision and monitoring. You may not feel you are able to provide them with the same level of care in your own home. What alternatives do you have if you want them living near you, but you are concerned about making sure they are safe and getting the care they need? You have several options:
As mentioned above, you might start with a granny pod or MEDCottage which you can arrange to have set up quickly on your own property. While some of these specialty cottages may look like a typical guest house, these buildings come equipped with extra safety features including hand railings, defibrillators, first aid supplies, lighted floorboards and wheelchair ramps. The flooring may also be extra soft to reduce injuries if they fall. When additional equipment is added to accommodate their specific needs, such as a medical call button system (Ad) so they can let someone in the main house know when they need assistance, your loved one can feel very secure in their cottage. The MEDCottages can be leased inexpensively, and a granny pod can often be purchased or built for about the same amount as two to four years of living expenses in assisted living.
If your accessory building is in your backyard, you may want to make sure the yard is securely fenced, with a lockable gate, so you do not have to worry that your loved one could become confused and wander away. You may also want to have them wear a medical alert call bracelet or button, so they can quickly contact you if they fall, get confused or have a panic attack.
An in-home caregiver can also make it easier for you to keep your loved one at home, rather than in an assisted living facility. You can hire someone for as few as four hours a day or for whatever length of time they are needed. They can help dress your elderly relative, assist them with personal hygiene, make sure they are eating properly, supervise their medications, and keep them from wandering away or getting lonely ... and they can do it all from the safety of your own property. Even with a pandemic going on, caregivers are being trained to be extra conscientious about hygiene and the use of personal protective equipment, in order to protect your loved one.
Do not forget to take advantage of local resources which may be included in their Medicare coverage or offered at low cost in your community. For example, they may be eligible to have a physical or occupational therapist come and work with them once or twice a week. Medicare may also provide a special medical bed, wheelchair, walkers or other special equipment at little or no cost to you, depending on their needs.
Your community may also offer adult day care services at a low cost, so your loved one can get out of the house and be kept active a couple of days a week. If they are physically and mentally able, they may want to participate in activities at the local senior center, such as taking classes, joining an exercise group, and playing bridge or bingo there. Some of the centers also offer low-cost lunches, where they can chat with other senior citizens. Of course, these types of activities will only be available after the stay-at-home orders have been lifted in your community and the senior centers have reopened.
With a little planning and the right equipment, it is possible for many families to move their elderly relatives out of a nursing home and into their own home. Although this may not be possible for some families when their loved one has serious medical problems or advanced Alzheimer's Disease, it is an option many other families will want to consider.
If either you or a caregiver are taking care of an ill family member who may have a contagious disease, owning a separate cottage or apartment may make it easier to quarantine them.
You may find it helpful to read this book (Ad): "Pandemic Flu Home Care: A Detailed Guide for Caring for the Ill at Home."
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Photo credit: Pixabay and MEDCottage