A one-stop source about accessory dwelling units, multigenerational homes, laneway houses, ADUs, granny flats, in-law units…
“I always knew my carriage house could be a living unit. You just look at it and see that someone could live there.” – Billy Hines
The first time Billy Hines saw his three bedroom house in Portland’s Alberta Arts District, he decided that someday he’d make the old carriage house into a living space. He bought the house in 1995 and began slowly renovating it. In 2006 he went through the process of converting the existing accessory structure into a permitted Accessory Dwelling Unit. The 500 square foot carriage house, originally constructed in 1912, had large sliding doors and plenty of character. Billy’s plan was to transform it into a 450 square foot ADU with one bedroom and one bath.
“One unique thing about me is that I’m just an average Joe who works in the restaurant industry. I’ve done a lot to my house on a pauper’s budget. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get much financing. I wasn’t going to qualify for another loan, so I took out a second mortgage. Getting the loan was easy. Getting the city to approve it was the hard part. I have a story of maddening government red tape I had to navigate through to get the permits and plans approved.” -Billy Hines
Billy brought his friend Jeff Brown on board to help him with the architectural drawings. Frustratingly, Billy’s plans were rejected the first two times he and Jeff put them forward.
“We’d get the plans drawn up and take them downtown to the office and the reviewer would stamp it denied.” -Billy Hines
The first reason the plans were rejected was was that in Portland, OR the design guidelines for a detached ADU require the the roof to match the primary structure. The original carriage house had a flat roof and Billy’s budget wouldn’t allow him to put a new pitched roof on his ADU. (The current regulation provides exceptions to the design guidelines for existing accessory structures such as garages and carriage houses.)
“When this house was built that law [requiring an accessory structure to match the primary dwelling] wasn’t on the books. So we challenged it. The house was built before the law so they gave us the exemption.” -Billy Hines
The second major hurdle was the requirement in place at the time that an ADU be no larger than 1/3 the size of the primary dwelling. (The current regulation is that an ADU in Portland can be up to 75% of the square footage of the primary dwelling or up to 800 square feet, whichever is less.)
“We took the square footage of the house and the carriage house and the formula is that the carriage house can be no bigger than 1/3 of the main house. The ADU was 1 ½ feet bigger than the 1/3. So we asked for a variance.” -Billy Hines
The variance request triggered a design review hearing, which cost an additional $600. Notification was sent to all neighbors within 200 square feet and none of them objected to Billy’s carriage house to ADU conversion. For Billy, the high point of his ADU permitting process was when a representative from the Portland Development Commission gave him hope that his project was worthwhile. She told him that she’d heard about his project and at the design review hearing she spoke up in support of Billy’s effort to convert a historic carriage house into an apartment. Nevertheless, it took 8 months for Billy and Jeff to get the plans approved.
“If I did not have Jeff helping me do this, I could not have done this. I’d wanted to quit many times, but Jeff offered to do the third set of plans for free. At first I thought it was a big hill to climb, but once I got reassurance we went through and later that summer we were building.” -Billy Hines
Billy found a small design-build company, Hard Line Design & Construction, who could meet his $60,000 budget for the renovation. However, Billy had not anticipated that the permit fees would amount to $8,700 nor that appliances would run him an additional $2,000 so he ended up putting this expense on his credit card.
Once it was complete, Billy moved into the ADU and lived in it himself. He recently moved back into his 3 bedroom house to provide more space for his new dog. He is currently renting his ADU to a tenant. Billy has a good sense of how the space works for a tenant since he has lived in the ADU himself.
“It’s a cozy home for one person without lots of hobbies. It’s like a cabin. It’s quiet. There’s pond with a four tier water fountain trickling outside the bedroom window. I think it’s just a gorgeous little spot. I now use the E-word for my property. It’s an estate. There are multiple buildings here.” -Billy Hines
Now that the permitting process is behind him, Billy can’t think of any drawbacks to having an ADU. In fact, he thinks an ADU is a good option for anyone who can figure out how to have one of his or her own.
“It’s a good idea to have a carriage house. Say your marriage goes wrong. If your grandmother or mother-in-law wants to come stay with you. I’d like to retire back there, rent out my larger house and maximize my income in my older years. A three bedroom house and social security should be enough.” -Billy Hines
So what’s Billy’s advice for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their property?
“Save your money, get your credit together, and be prepared to get turned down and keep trying until you get it. You may not get it the first time.” -Billy Hines