This Season's Newest Accessory is a Tiny Home!

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Have you heard the term “accessory dwelling unit (ADU)” recently and wondered what that means and why people are talking about it? Well, you’re likely to hear more about them in the coming months because Alexandria City Council has approved ADUs for Alexandria!

An accessory dwelling unit can assume many forms, such as an in-law apartment, granny flat, tiny home, she-shed, basement apartment, covered garage, or any new structures that are detached from a primary residence. Ideally, these ADUs could be used to bring in rental income, provide on-site housing options for caregivers, as well as help expand housing options, affordability, and accessibility by expanding choice. Many other neighboring jurisdictions have developed ADU policies, including Arlington. We’re thrilled to see Alexandria passing similar measures.

After talking with Steve Kulinski of Kulinski Group Architects, the cost of building a size appropriate and architecturally appropriate, small detached ADU could cost $150,000 +. Of course, the rules over what can be built with these detached structures will be strict and likely require custom design and an architect’s involvement to comply with Virginia’s statewide building code. Accessory dwelling units will create opportunities for homeowners to build on their own lots for more uses like a home office, guest house, or home gym. This could also mean an opportunity for basement rentals.

After the January 23rd meeting, these are the stipulations Alexandria City Council has incorporated with their approval:

  •  A prohibition against exclusive use for short-term rentals.
  • Owner-occupancy requirement at time of application and construction of the ADU, meaning the owner must live on site.
  • Requirement for notice to be given to neighbors of ADU construction.
  • A tiered setback requirement. Buildings under 13.5 feet in height only require a 1 foot setback, buildings between 13.5 feet and 16 feet require a 2.5 foot setback, and structures between 16-20 feet require a 5 foot setback.
  • City council will revisit the policy for ADUs in 18 months.
We are definitely keeping our ears up for future developments around this new policy and look forward to seeing how Alexandrians may take advantage of the opportunity of an ADU. What do you think about accessory dwelling units?


The Patterson Group is one of the most experienced and trusted real estate teams in the area, serving the community of Alexandria, VA for more than 30 years.

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