Skip to main content

South Valley Journal

Riverton considering regulations on mother-in-law apartments

Oct 03, 2019 02:58PM ● By Travis Barton

Accessory dwelling units (or mother-in-law apartments) can often be found as apartments above garages, seen here. While they are currently illegal in Riverton, city officials are considering what regulations to include that would make them legal. (Flickr)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

After much discussion through various council meetings and then some, Riverton City officials are contemplating an ordinance on accessory dwelling units regulations in the city. 

Accessory dwelling units (commonly called ADUs and known as mother-in-law apartments) are a secondary living space on the same grounds of the home often found as an apartment over the garage, basement apartment or tiny house detached from the primary home. 

City officials held two public hearings in August and after concerns were voiced from residents and members of the City Council on the proposed ordinance, it was continued to a later date. 

In the original ordinance, ADUs could not exceed 650 square feet. Other regulations included window and deck sizing, entrance locations, one dedicated on-site parking spot, owner must live on the property, and no more than one family can live there. 

But residents and a few councilmembers felt the ordinance was too restrictive. 

“People are going to do this under the radar if it’s so restrictive” rather than come to the city for a permit, said Councilmember Tawnee McCay. 

Currently, ADUs are illegal within Riverton boundaries. City Attorney Ryan Carter explained to the council during a Sept. 3 work meeting they aimed to strike a balance between expanding personal property rights and not upsetting neighbors. 

“Question is: how far should those rights go?” Carter asked the council. 

City officials are responding to Senate Bill 34 that passed in the Utah legislature which requires cities to adjust their general plans to include more affordable housing. The bill requires cities to adopt three of a possible 23 options provided by the legislature. One of those options is mother-in-law apartments. 

Councilmembers and residents took issue with the maximum size of 650 feet. Both Councilmembers McCay and Sheldon Stewart were in favor of not exceeding 50% of the home rather than giving a square footage requirement. 

Residents also voiced displeasure with the standards of the home being too restrictive such as limiting space on a second story or the size of windows. 

Carter explained that ADUs must still have building inspections otherwise people “can do whatever they want inside their homes to the detriment of safety issues.”

One resident, Tim Heaton, was upset about the possible ordinance, telling city officials he felt it was “moving in the wrong direction.” He said this is an “unfunded mandate” from the legislature that is being “foisted on the backs of residents.” 

“I’d like to see a better outcome,” said 25-year resident Heaton. “I’m grateful to see you putting in the time and trying to make the ordinance workable. I just find it hard to believe that the other 20 of the 23 options they gave us are worse than this.” 

As for residents who could be grandfathered in, Carter said he hoped this would encourage people to come in for permits. There will be a grace period, he said, giving people time to come into compliance. Violations would be “mostly fines,” he said. 

Other cities have been dealing with possible ADU ordinances. After three years of deliberation in Cottonwood Heights, its City Council decided ADUs would remain illegal.  

Watch for Riverton City Council agendas to see when the ordinance will come before the council again.