March 20, 2024

ADU Laws and Regulations in Chicago - 2024

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Understanding ADUs in Chicago

Additional Dwelling Units (ADUs) represent a transformative approach to urban housing in Chicago. They are self-contained living spaces that can be situated within the existing structure of a primary residence or as independent secondary residential structures on the same lot.

Types of ADUs in Chicago:

  • Interior ADUs: Often developed in unused attics or basements.
  • Detached ADUs: Standalone structures like coach houses or backyard houses.
  • Conversion ADUs: Built by repurposing existing garages or similar structures.

Chicago’s ADU ordinance, passed in December 2020, facilitates the creation of these units by homeowners. By repurposing existing spaces or adding new structures, they enable the diversification of housing options.

Key Benefits:

  • Increases affordable housing options.
  • Generates rental income for homeowners.
  • Addresses the growing housing demand.

Developers and residents interested in adding an ADU must adhere to a range of regulations for zoning, construction, and occupancy. Specific legal and code requirements are detailed in the city’s guidelines, crucial for anyone looking to convert or construct an ADU.

The ordinance targets select pilot areas, with the intention of evaluating its success and potential city-wide expansion.

For comprehensive information on the ordinance and regulations governing ADUs, refer to the City of Chicago or detailed guides like those found on

By recognizing their potential, Chicago’s approach to Accessory Dwelling Units aims to make strides towards more inclusive and flexible residential offerings.

History and Development of ADU Laws in Chicago

In Chicago, the history and development of Additional Dwelling Unit (ADU) laws reflect a dynamic approach to urban housing challenges, showcasing pivotal changes from strict regulations to more accommodating measures.

Early Beginnings and Ban

In Chicago's early urban development, ADUs were common until a significant shift in policy. In 1957, Chicago's housing landscape changed when the Chicago City Council amended its zoning code, effectively banning accessory dwelling units. This legislative action responded to trends favoring suburbanization and single-family homes, reducing housing density within the city.

Introduction of the ADU Ordinance

Years later, recognizing the need to address housing shortages and to promote density, the Chicago City Council revisited the issue, leading to the ADU ordinance. Approved in December 2020, the ordinance marked the city's reversal of the longstanding ban, allowing the creation of ADUs within attics, basements, and accessory buildings. This change aimed to expand affordable housing options and facilitate more diverse urban living opportunities.

Expansion and Future Prospects

The ADU ordinance not only legalized new units but also provided a mechanism for previously unauthorized units to receive proper zoning and building permits. Since its enactment, the ordinance has opened up prospects for significant expansion in Chicago's housing offerings. Observers anticipate that, if successfully implemented, this legislative framework could serve as a model for other cities dealing with similar housing pressures.

Regulatory Framework for ADUs in Chicago

The regulatory environment governing Additional Dwelling Units (ADUs) in Chicago is built on clear zoning requirements and defined processes for obtaining permits and adhering to building codes. These regulations are in place to ensure safety, maintain neighborhood character, and optimize housing availability.

Zoning Requirements

Chicago's zoning ordinance plays a crucial role in the placement and development of ADUs. The ordinance ensures that ADUs align with the city's housing objectives while integrating with the existing zoning regulations. In particular, it specifies the types of zones where ADUs are permitted, such as areas designated for residential use. For instance, coach houses, backyard houses, and in-law apartments are allowed in accordance with the ADU ordinance, tailored to foster housing variety and accessibility across the city’s neighborhoods.

Permits and Building Codes

To construct an ADU in Chicago, homeowners must navigate the permit application process overseen by the Department of Buildings. This involves securing a building permit, which requires demonstrating compliance with various building codes that dictate construction standards, electrical safety, plumbing requirements, and accessibility. These regulations are in place to ensure that all ADUs are safe and habitable. The cap on ADU permits per block also helps manage the density and impact on community infrastructure.

Design and Construction Standards in Chicago

Chicago's ADU ordinance brings distinct regulations affecting the design and construction of various types of additional dwelling units such as coach houses, attic and basement conversion units, and other accessory buildings. These standards are crucial for ensuring that these units are safe, functional, and seamlessly integrated with existing neighborhood aesthetics.

Structural Requirements

Additional dwelling units, whether they are coach houses, attic conversions, or basement apartments, must comply with rigorous structural criteria. Coach houses and other backyard houses may not exceed 22 feet in height and must be constructed within the rear 50% of the lot to ensure they don't detract from the primary residential structure. Prefabricated units and those above garages also fall under these height restrictions.

For attic and basement conversions, proper egress and sufficient ceiling height are mandatories to ensure safety and habitability. Attic units, in particular, require adequate insulation and ventilation to meet energy efficiency standards. Every created unit must be safe for occupants, necessitating a review of electrical wiring, plumbing, and structural integrity before approval.

Aesthetic Considerations

When designing ADUs, aesthetics play an essential role in maintaining neighborhood character. Exterior finishes on coach houses and accessory buildings should match or complement the primary residence. Chicago's regulations encourage designs that blend with the existing structures and the overall streetscape.

In established neighborhoods, conversion units in attics and basements must maintain the exterior facade of the buildings. Any new external additions or alterations need to reflect the surrounding architectural styles. In essence, while allowing flexibility and creativity, the city's standards make it clear that any new construction should honor and enhance the existing community aesthetic.

Location-Specific Regulations in Chicago

In Chicago, regulations for Additional Dwelling Units (ADUs) vary significantly by location, with the city designating specific areas for pilot programs and distinct ordinances tailored to individual neighborhoods.

Pilot Program Areas

The City of Chicago has identified five pilot areas where homeowners may create ADUs such as coach houses, basement units, and attic conversions. These zones are devised to monitor and assess the impact of ADUs on the local housing stock and community. The designated pilot program areas include Northwest, North, West, South and Southeast zones, encompassing neighborhoods such as:

  • Northwest: Logan Square, Albany Park, Irving Park, Avondale, Hermosa
  • North: Lincoln Square, Edgewater, Uptown, North Center, West Ridge
  • West: West Town, Near West Side, East Garfield Park, North Lawndale
  • South: Ashburn, Auburn Gresham, Chicago Lawn, Roseland, Washington Heights, Englewood, and West Englewood
  • Southeast: South Chicago, Woodlawn, Greater Grand Crossing, and Washington Park

By focusing on these areas, the city facilitates ADU development as a means of expanding affordable housing options and adapting to diverse community needs.

Unique Neighborhood Ordinances

Individual neighborhoods in Chicago may have unique ordinances that influence the creation and use of ADUs. For example, in neighborhoods like Lake View or Little Village, specific zoning regulations or community plans could dictate the size, architectural style, or occupancy conditions of ADUs. Additionally, communities like Chatham or Greater Grand Crossing may adopt further regulations to ensure new ADUs are consistent with the existing character and housing needs.

These location-specific ordinances not only provide guidance to property owners but also help preserve the integrity and aesthetic of Chicago's varied and distinct neighborhoods. It is vital for homeowners and developers to review and comply with these neighborhood-specific regulations to successfully integrate ADUs within their designated communities.

Ownership and Usage in Chicago

Chicago's ordinances on Additional Dwelling Units (ADUs) are designed to create more residential options within existing neighborhoods while considering ownership and usage regulations to maintain community integrity.

Owner-Occupancy Rules

Chicago's ADU ordinance specifies that property owners must generally reside on the property where the ADU is located. This owner-occupancy requirement ensures that ADUs contribute to the residential character of neighborhoods. By being present, owners oversee the property's maintenance and the well-being of the community.

  • Owner-Occupied: The primary dwelling or the ADU itself must be the owner's principal residence.

Rental Provisions

When considering rental arrangements for ADUs, Chicago's regulations are structured to balance the creation of additional income for property owners with the preservation of housing affordability.

  • Income: ADUs present a means for property owners to generate additional income through rent.
  • Legal: All rental agreements must comply with Chicago's residential and short-term rental ordinances.
  • Airbnb/Short-Term Rental: Properties rented for less than 32 days must adhere to short-term rental licensing, subject to more stringent regulations to discourage the conversion of residential units into de facto hotels.
  • Vacation Rental: The ordinance differentiates between vacation rentals and residential properties, the latter being subject to less restrictive rules.
  • Property Tax: Additional property tax implications may arise from the creation of an ADU, impacting the owner's financial considerations.

Using properties for purposes like Airbnb or other vacation rental platforms requires adherence to strict criteria, ensuring that residential communities aren’t overtly commercialized. The rules are tailored to allow homeowners flexibility in property management while aligning with the city's strategic housing goals.

Financial Aspects and Incentives in Chicago

The financial facets of Additional Dwelling Unit (ADU) laws in Chicago give opportunities for homeowners while addressing affordable housing challenges. This section covers the intersection of ADUs with affordability initiatives tied to Area Median Income (AMI), and the avenues for securing funding and assistance to develop these units.

Affordability and Area Median Income

ADUs serve as a strategic way to add affordable housing options in Chicago. The city's ordinance includes affordability requirements, mandating that a percentage of newly created ADUs must be rented at or below rates deemed affordable for households earning up to 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI). Property owners benefitting from this program may be subject to these affordability terms for a period of 30 years, ensuring they contribute long-term to the affordable housing stock.

Funding Sources and Assistance

The financial implementation for ADUs can be complex, but there are resources designed to alleviate these challenges. The Chicago Low Income Housing Trust Fund is one such entity, providing subsidies to owners who rent their ADUs to low-income tenants. Additionally, property owners can explore various loans tailored to ADU construction, including those with favorable terms for fostering affordable units. Current programs may offer loans at low interest rates or with forgivable portions, upon meeting certain conditions tied to affordability.

Overall, Chicago's initiative to expand ADUs reflects a commitment to creative and inclusive strategies for building affordable housing, providing both a financial incentive for property owners and a much-needed resource for the community.

Parking and Accessibility in Chicago

Chicago's ADU Ordinance has specific prerequisites for parking and lot sizes, offering a more streamlined process for the development of additional dwelling units. These requirements are tailored to encourage the use of ADUs while maintaining the integrity of residential zones.

Parking Regulations

In Chicago, the introduction of an ADU does not necessitate the addition of parking spaces. This policy is intended to simplify the creation of such units without placing undue burden on homeowners or developers. For instance, converting a basement or attic into an ADU, or adding a coach house on the property, would not trigger the need for more parking spaces. Furthermore, if a property owner is creating an ADA-accessible ADU, they may be eligible for financial assistance, signifying the city's commitment to accessibility without increasing the parking footprint.

Setbacks and Lot Size Requirements

The regulations stipulate that ADUs must adhere to the zoning rules concerning rear setbacks and minimum lot area. Rear setback requirements ensure that ADUs maintain a specified distance from the rear property line, preserving open space and respecting the privacy of neighbors. The minimum lot area requirement obliges homeowners to have a certain amount of land before considering the construction of an ADU, which ensures that density levels remain consistent with the character of the neighborhood. Chicago's zoning codes provide detailed parameters for these criteria, ensuring a balance between new housing opportunities and the existing urban landscape.

Compliance and Legal Considerations in Chicago

Navigating the labyrinth of regulations pertaining to Additional Dwelling Units (ADUs) demands a comprehensive understanding of both compliance requirements and legal intricacies. The City of Chicago's guidelines are designed to ensure that all ADUs, whether new or existing, align with the rigorous legal frameworks set by the city's Department of Housing. Homeowners and developers are required to regularize any existing illegal units and adhere to the stipulated zoning laws to promote equity and maintain the intended diversification of housing.

Addressing Illegal Units

The legalization of pre-existing illegal ADUs constitutes a significant component in the enforcement of Chicago's ADU ordinance. Homeowners with units that were established without the necessary permits must seek approval from the Department of Housing. They need to comply with city regulations related to safety, design, and accessibility standards. A process is in place for these conversions:

  • Inspection: An in-depth property inspection to identify code violations.
  • Permitting: Securing the requisite permits to carry out the necessary modifications.
  • Renovation: Bringing the unit up to code, which often involves infrastructure upgrades.
  • Final Approval: A re-evaluation by city inspectors to affirm compliance.

Ensuring Equity and Fairness

In an effort to ensure equity and fairness, Chicago's approach towards the establishment of ADUs meticulously considers the availability of affordable housing. The ADU laws are designed to provide greater housing options across different neighborhoods while maintaining the character and sustainability of the communities. Compliance with these laws involves:

  • Following zoning regulations to prevent overcrowding and maintain neighborhood stability.
  • Implementing affordability requirements to extend housing opportunities to a broader range of income levels.
  • Providing consistent guidelines for the construction and conversion of ADUs to foster fair practices.

The interplay of these elements within the legal framework establishes a groundwork for the equitable development and integration of ADUs into Chicago's urban tapestry.

Community Impact and Evolution in Chicago

The recent amendments in Chicago's housing ordinances specifically cater to expanding housing access and reinforcing the city's affordable housing inventory. These changes principally revolve around the incorporation of Additional Dwelling Units (ADUs) across various neighborhoods.

Effect on Local Housing Access

ADUs have been instrumental in increasing the accessibility of housing in Chicago. By utilizing the potential of basements, attics, and accessory buildings, they add significantly to the housing stock without the need for new construction on a large scale. Provisions of the ADU Ordinance have made it easier for homeowners to add living spaces, effectively easing the housing crunch. They have emerged as a practical solution to accommodate a diverse population, including families looking for in-law units and individuals seeking affordable rental options.

Adjustment and Adaptation in Neighborhoods

Neighborhoods across Chicago have seen varied levels of adjustment and adaptation as a response to ADU integration. Historically, restrictive laws limited the development of secondary units, but the revised ADU ordinance creates pilot areas for their resurgence, influencing the composition and affordability of local housing. These changes have facilitated not only an increase in affordable housing but have also provided homeowners a new stream of income. While some communities embrace the transition, others grapple with changes in infrastructure and community character. The shift, nevertheless, reflects a collective move towards inclusive urban growth.

Case Studies and Examples in Chicago

In Chicago, the Additional Dwelling Units (ADU) Ordinance has reshaped the urban residential landscape, providing compelling case studies and narrating direct impact stories from residents while highlighting innovations in ADU applications.

Impact Stories from Residents

Residents within pilot areas of Chicago have experienced significant shifts in housing dynamics due to the ADU ordinance. A three-flat owner in Lakeview, one of the pilot areas, converted her unused attic space into a rentable unit. This addition has not only increased her property’s value but also provided affordable living space in an increasingly competitive market. In Pilsen, another pilot area, families have transformed basements into ADUs, keeping extended family members close while maintaining privacy.

Innovations in ADU Applications

Steven Vance, a local urban planner, capitalized on the ADU ordinance to innovate in housing design. His team has developed modular ADUs that can be quickly installed in backyards, utilizing sustainable materials and practices. These prefab units serve as a fast, cost-effective approach to expanding housing stock. This pioneering work reflects the city’s adaptive reuse trends, embracing the ADU policy to foster diverse urban living solutions.

Planning for an ADU in Chicago

When planning for an Additional Dwelling Unit (ADU) in Chicago, homeowners and developers must consider strategic factors and navigate the city's processes effectively. This planning involves understanding zoning requirements, obtaining permits, and working with the Department of Planning and Development.

Strategic Considerations

When contemplating the addition of an ADU, zoning is among the first considerations. Chicago's zoning code determines where ADUs can be built, influencing the density of units in various neighborhoods. Prospective builders should carefully evaluate their property's zoning classification to ensure compliance with local density standards. In some cases, property owners might be required to apply for a zoning change to accommodate an ADU.

To gain the necessary authorization, a building permit application must be submitted to the city's Department of Planning and Development. This department oversees the issuance of permits and ensures that construction plans meet all regulatory requirements. To support the application, detailed drawings and specifications outlining the proposed ADU's design and structural integrity will be essential.

Navigating City Processes

Understanding the steps for securing a permit is critical for navigating Chicago's regulatory environment. The city's Department of Planning and Development usually requires multiple forms of documentation, inspections, and approval stages before issuing a building permit.

Applicants for ADU construction must be prepared for an iterative process involving:

  1. Pre-application: Engagement with city officials to discuss plans and receive initial feedback.
  2. Formal application: Submission of comprehensive plans and supporting documents for review.
  3. Review and revisions: Adjustments to the proposal as requested by the Department of Planning and Development to comply with zoning and safety regulations.
  4. Approval: Receipt of the building permit after satisfying all requirements, enabling construction to commence.

Adherence to the specified protocols and maintaining open communication with the city can streamline the permit acquisition, thus expediting the journey from planning to realization of an ADU in Chicago.

Frequently Addressed Concerns

When considering the addition of an Additional Dwelling Unit (ADU) in Chicago, interested parties often encounter a range of concerns. These generally relate to understanding the scope of the ordinance and the stipulations of the regulatory process.

Common Questions About ADUs

  • What constitutes an ADU in Chicago?
    An ADU is a secondary housing unit on a residential property, such as a coach house, granny flat, or a unit in basements or attics, designed to be smaller and independent of the primary residential building. Details of what is considered an ADU can be found on the City of Chicago's ADU Ordinance page.
  • Where are ADUs permitted?
    The ordinance allows for ADUs in specific pilot areas within the city. To determine eligibility, property owners should consult the official zoning information.

Clarifications on Regulatory Practices

  • How does one obtain approval for an ADU?
    To move forward with an ADU, one must comply with the specific requirements set forth in the ordinance and submit necessary plans to the City for approval.
  • What are the restrictions on renting out ADUs?
    The ADU ordinance has guidelines pertaining to rental availability and usage. Interested parties can refer to the ADU FAQ for specifics on renting out such units.

Resources and Further Reading

Those seeking comprehensive knowledge about ADU laws and regulations in Chicago will find a wealth of information in the official documents provided by the city’s departments. These resources offer clarity on legal requirements, step-by-step guidance, and further educational materials.

Official Documentation and Guidelines

The City of Chicago’s Department of Housing (DOH) provides detailed information on the ADU Ordinance, including stipulations for attics, basements, and accessory buildings. This is a crucial resource for those aiming to build ADUs in compliance with city codes.

For developers and homeowners, the Department of Buildings offers specifics on the construction and renovation codes necessary for safely creating an ADU. They ensure buildings meet safety standards and living conditions fit the legal requirements.

In addition, the Department of Planning and Development guides individuals through zoning laws related to ADUs, ensuring that new developments integrate well with the existing neighborhood's design and infrastructure.

Educational Materials and Workshops

For those looking for in-depth learning opportunities, the Department of Housing frequently provides workshops and educational seminars on the most effective ways to utilize ADU regulations to enhance community development and increase affordable housing options.

Further, experts in the field regularly publish analyses and articles, such as "Deep Dive Into Chicago’s Additional Dwelling Unit (ADU) Ordinance" that explore the impact and opportunities of the ADU ordinance in Chicago’s diverse communities. This material offers valuable insights beyond the government documentation.

Future Outlook

The future outlook for ADUs in Chicago holds significant implications for affordable housing and urban development. Legislation continues to evolve, reflecting an adaptive approach to changing needs within the city's housing landscape.

Proposed Amendments and Revisions

Chicago's city council actively examines ADU laws, searching for ways to improve the existing ordinance based on the effectiveness and impact on the community. As these laws are reassessed, potential amendments may further ease restrictions, thereby expanding ADU construction in more neighborhoods. This evolution in zoning ordinance and regulations aims to increase the housing stock and create more affordable housing opportunities.

Trends in Urban Development

There has been a noticeable trend towards integrating ADUs into Chicago's urban tapestry. Evaluations of the initial implementation indicate that permitting ADUs in select pilot areas has been a positive move. The inclusion of ADUs as part of the housing solution is expected to escalate, as they offer a pragmatic approach to harnessing existing spaces for residency without altering the city's skyline drastically.

Glossary of Terms

ADU (Additional Dwelling Unit): A secondary housing unit on a single residential lot. ADUs can be located in various areas such as attics, basements, or in accessory structures like coach houses.

Coach House: A type of ADU that is often located on the same grounds as a larger building but is a separate structure. Also known as a carriage house or laneway house.

Accessory Building: A building on the same lot as the main structure, but not attached to the primary residence. This can include structures like garages or sheds.

Basement Unit: An ADU located below the main level of a house, typically below ground level.

Attic Unit: An ADU located in the upper area of a house, just below the roof.

Zoning Ordinance: The legal regulations governing land and structure use, which specify where ADUs can be constructed.

Affordable Housing: Housing that is reasonably priced for those with a median or below-median income level. The goal of expanding affordable housing is often a driving factor behind ADU legislation.

Pilot Areas: Specific areas in a city where new ordinances or regulations, such as those for ADUs, are first implemented to test feasibility and impact.

In the context of housing terminology, an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) refers to a secondary housing unit situated on a single residential lot, with variations such as Coach Houses being detached ADUs on the same property as the main residence, while Accessory Buildings denote separate structures on the same lot as the primary residence. Basement Units are ADUs located beneath the main level of a residence, whereas Attic Units are situated in the topmost area of a house. Zoning Ordinances are legal regulations governing land and structure use, while Affordable Housing encompasses residences priced for median or below-median income earners. Pilot Areas are designated zones for testing new ordinances or regulations in housing development and zoning.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, readers will find clear answers to common queries regarding Additional Dwelling Units in Chicago, guided by recent legislation and city programs.

What are the current eligibility criteria for an ADU in Chicago?

The City of Chicago allows ADUs in attics, basements, and accessory buildings such as coach houses or in-law suites, primarily within designated pilot areas. Homeowners must adhere to specific building codes and zoning requirements, as outlined in the ADU Ordinance.

How does the ADU grant program work in Chicago?

Chicago's ADU grant program assists eligible homeowners with financing the construction of ADUs. The program prioritizes applicants based on various factors, such as income level and location, to promote affordable housing. Detailed information about the ADU grant program's operation is outlined by the city's Department of Housing.

What minimum ceiling height is required for an ADU in Chicago?

For an ADU in Chicago, the minimum ceiling height required is 7 feet 6 inches. This requirement applies to both new and converted ADUs to ensure safety and habitability standards are met.

Can garden units be legally converted into ADUs in Chicago?

Garden units, which are typically located on the ground floor or basement of a building, can be legally converted into ADUs. This conversion must comply with the new zoning regulations and building standards set by the city, including adequate egress windows and ceiling heights.

What are the zoning requirements for constructing an ADU in Chicago?

Zoning requirements for ADUs in Chicago vary by residential district and whether the ADU is a conversion or new construction. In general, ADUs are permitted within certain pilot areas and must meet lot size, setback, and parking regulations. Homeowners should consult the Building Code alerts for specifics.

How do rental regulations impact ADUs in Chicago?

Rental regulations for ADUs in Chicago are designed to integrate these units into the city's housing market responsibly. Landlords must comply with tenant's rights ordinances and are encouraged to keep rents affordable. Additionally, these units must be registered with the city, and may be subject to inspections to ensure they meet living standards.

This post is for informational purposes only and does not serve as legal, financial, or tax advice. Consult your own legal, financial, or tax advisor for matters mentioned here. The information on this site is general in nature. Any description of coverage is necessarily simplified. Whether a particular loss is covered depends on the specific facts and the provisions, exclusions and limits of the actual policy. Nothing on this site alters the terms or conditions of any of our policies. You should read the policy for a complete description of coverage. Coverage options, limits, discounts, deductibles and other features are subject to individuals meeting our underwriting criteria and state availability. Not all features available in all states. Discounts may not apply to all coverages. Steadily is not liable for any actions taken based on this information. If you believe any of this information may be inaccurate please contact us.

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