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Options for ADU Owners: Rent One, Both, or Neither

In my conversations with over 60 ADU homeowners for the ADU Case Studies Project, “increased housing flexibility” is a key reason given for why they’ve created their ADUs. “Potential rental income” was right alongside it. ADU owners appreciate that having two dwelling units on their property provides a lot of options. In places where there are not owner occupancy requirements – such as Portland, OR – ADU owners can use their properties in any of the following ways:

Own Two, Rent Neither

Isabel Johnson's ADU - a guest house and space away from the main house

Isabel Johnson’s ADU – a guest house and space away from the main house

The Own Two, Rent Neither model is often employed by Multigenerational Families. Watch for the upcoming post How ADUs Work for Multigenerational Families for examples of how ADUs are being used by multiple generations.

On the other hand, the Own Two, Use Both model might also be used by households who do a lot of entertaining and want one of the spaces – usually the ADU – to be available as a guest house for visiting friends and family. Sheila Butler’s ADU: From Shack to Guesthouse is a great example of how an ADU can be used by a family as their primary residence or a guest house as housing needs shift. Steve Snyder & Jackie Ellenz’s ADU: An Energy-Efficient Guest House is another example of an ADU being used as a guest house for visiting friends and family. Their ADU is also used as an art studio, which brings up another option. Some ADU owners use their ADUs as an office space or as a space to get away from the hustle and bustle of the main house. Isabel Johnson & Brad Creel’s ADU: A Backyard Guest Room and Cheryl & Jim Levie: Recreating a Period Piece are examples of these uses as well.

Of course, as family situations change, having an ADU allows for the flexibility to convert one or both of the units over to a rental.


Own Two, Rent One

The Own Two, Rent One model is very common since ADUs provide a great way to bring in additional income through rentals. The biggest distinction in the Own Two, Rent One model is the difference between long-term and short-term rentals. In Portland, where ADUs can be used as short-term rentals, many people have chosen this option.

Hayden ADU - a short-term rental

Hayden ADU – a short-term rental

Examples of ADUs as short-term rentals include:

Some new ADUs as short-term rentals will be added to the mix this year, so be sure to watch for:

Gray-Okulitch ADU - a long-term rental

Gray-Okulitch ADU – a long-term rental

Of course, many ADUs are used as long-term rentals, providing stable – and often affordable – housing to their tenants. Providing affordable housing to friends was a key driver in the decisions to create Tom Hudson’s ADU: The Newest House on the Block and Sylvia Allen & Martha Shelley’s ADU: A Home for A Friend. Many others, including Regan Gray & George OkulitchSusan Eliot, Rambo Halpern, and Lisa Lonstron have appreciated the steady income and the on-going connection of having long-term tenants.


Own Two, Rent Both

Duong ADU & Main House

Duong ADU & Main House – both are rentals

In places without an owner-occupancy requirement – like Portland, OR – it’s also possible to own a house with an ADU and rent out both units. (Check out How Portland Became ADU-Friendly (And How Your City Can, Too) for more on that!)

When an out-of-state job opportunity came up, this provision allowed Blake Clark & Sabina Chen to pour sweat equity into a home they hope to come back to someday, rather than being forced to sell. They were able to rent both units to great tenants and they keep tabs on the place from afar. Rex Burkholder & Lydia Rich also used this option so that they could rent out both the house they used to occupy and the ADU they built when they moved to another house across town. Similarly, Victor and Kendra Duong purchased a home with ADU potential so that they could rent out both units as an investment in a neighborhood that they like.


Landlord Suites

Satish's ADU & Main House - the ADU is a landlord suite right now

Satish’s ADU & Main House – the ADU is a landlord suite right now

In this round of the ADU Case Studies ProjectI discovered a new ADU use pattern: the “landlord suite.” With this option, homeowners are either traveling or live in multiple places and use their ADU as their home base when they are in town. They often rent it to someone else when they are away. I realized in retrospect that this is the model used for Stephanie & Sam Dyer’s ADU: A Guest Cottage Off Mississippi Ave. They rent out their parents’ landlord suite as a short-term rental when the folks are not in town. Similarly, Satish and his partner Jeff split their time between Portland and San Franciso, so they rent out their primary dwelling long-term and use their ADU as a short-term rental when they’re not living in it themselves. They love Portland and look forward to one day returning to their main house. (Then again, they have fallen in love with their ADU. Good thing they have the option to live in either unit, right?!) Hammer and Hand has also built an interesting landlord suite which you can view in the Hammer & Hand ADU Profiles.


ADU Rental Decisions

As they’re running the numbers on an ADU, many people face a decision about which unit to rent out and how to rent it. The great thing about an ADU is that any of them could be the right choice for you at any given time. Here are the considerations:


Should you rent out the primary dwelling or the ADU?

The advantage of owning two and renting one is that you can live in either unit and rent out the other as it suits your life situation. You might, for instance, look to James Michelinie & Kyra Routon’s ADU: A Starter Home as an example. They were renting a house on a corner lot which they were able to purchase. They then built the ADU in the backyard and moved into it so they could rent the primary dwelling. They plan to move back into the main house and rent out the ADU when they are ready to start their family. Similarly, Lisa Lonstron lived in her primary dwelling for years before she converted her basement into an ADU. She’s established more financial security for herself by living in her ADU and renting out the main house.


Should you rent short-term or long-term?

Renting short-term is a nice option if you want to retain access to the ADU as a work space or a guest house for friends and family. ADU owners often choose the short-term rental option if they are eager to pay down their investment quickly. Many people have found that they can bring in considerably more income renting their ADU as a short-term rental – particularly if it has a high-level of finish and a desirable location. John & Stephani Hayden, Joan Grimm & Rita Haberman, Barbara Gundle, and Marenda Chamberlin & Heidi Lohman are all going this route, at least to start.

However, there is a great deal of work required to maintain a short-term rental. Furthermore, a short-term rental doesn’t provide the level of stability that a long-term rental provides. Your short-term renter won’t watch your cat and collect your mail while you’re out of town or keep an eye on your kids while you run to the grocery store. That sense of community and those on-going relationships are only possible with a long-term tenant in the ADU.

“We will probably go to long-term since Airbnb is a lot of work. Having the ADU is an added expense. We get revenue from Airbnb and we enjoy meeting people, but there are also things to maintain. There’s an additional responsibility. It’s like having a side business.” –Marenda Chamberlin

Should you rent short-term and switch to long-term?

What some ADU owners have chosen to do is use their ADU as a short-term rental at first to help pay down their construction loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC) so they can more quickly realize their return on investment. They’ll then switch over to a long-term rental to bring in steady income while enjoying the benefits of having a consistent renter. They always have the option of moving into the ADU themselves, too.

As Barbara Gundle put it:

“It became pretty clear right away that Airbnb was the right way to go. I have to pay back the loan and that’s the fastest way to do it. Airbnb can bring in twice as much as a long-term rental. Of course, that depends on occupancy rates, but I think my location will be good. Once it’s paid off I will reevaluate and I may live in it.” – Barbara Gundle

So which is right for you? Tell us in the comments how you’ve used your ADU and/or how you plan to in the future.


About linamenard

Hi. My name is Lina Menard and I'm a small house dweller, designer, blogger, and builder. I'm currently collecting ADU Case Studies for Through my company Niche Consulting LLC, I help people design and build the home (and life) of their dreams! I also tell my stories about simple living in small spaces - like a travel trailer, a yurt, a backyard cottage, and tiny houses on wheels - at Niche News.

21 comments on “Options for ADU Owners: Rent One, Both, or Neither

  1. Martin John Brown
    January 7, 2016

    Great perspective, Lina. One of the most mis-understood things about ADUs is the fact that they can change in their use. Just because it has one use now, doesn’t mean it can’t have a different use later.

    Can you clarify a bit more what you mean by “landlord suite”? Do you mean the ADU is used as lodgings for the property owner, if they happen to be there?

    • Maria Johnson
      December 25, 2017

      Hi There,
      I’m interested in renting an unfurnised ADU in North or Northeast Portland Oregon for a year lease commitment.I’m a new college student women of 48 years young and healthy that is conscious of the community and well being of citizens who enjoys healthy eating and excerising.

      Prefererable 700 SQ ft. Washer & dryer in unit, oven is essential!!

      Can you please refer me to any potential current ADU avaiabile now?I must move by January 31st.


      • linamenard
        December 26, 2017

        Dear Maria,

        There are not currently any companies providing matchmaking services between ADU owners and potential renters (though it’s a great idea and we hope someone makes it happen!) Best wishes to you!

  2. linamenard
    January 8, 2016

    Martin, thanks for your response and your request for clarification about landlord suites. I’ve updated that section to include more explanation of the term.

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    April 10, 2016

    I purchased a large home to use as a B&B with an ADU cottage on the same lot. When I rent out the entire B&B, or it gets crowded, I move into the ADU. When the ADU is booked, I’m back in the inn. I live out of a suitcase and I “sleep around”, but it’s very lucrative and I’m learning to live lighter. It makes me appreciate my home more when I get it to myself occasionally, and I get to meet people and serve others’ needs. I accept dogs/cats in the cottage, and for people in between homes, it provides them with a private space and yard that is a great temporary home. I would recommend this arrangement to anyone who has the energy and patience, as it pays the bills. I have a pool and plenty of parking, and so far, the neighbors are fine with it all. If that changes, I’ll convert the ADA to a permanent granny-cottage rental.

  8. linamenard
    April 11, 2016

    Jane, thank you for your comment and for sharing how you’re using your home and ADU. It sounds like having the option to inhabit either your home or your ADU has given you quite a bit of housing flexibility!

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  16. Laura Moran
    February 12, 2017

    Can anyone share experiences with finding the “right” long term tenant? How do you find the right fit with people to share your space?

    • linamenard
      February 12, 2017

      Great question, Laura! I hope some of our ADU owners who rent long-term will follow up with you with their thoughts.

  17. fivestrokeroll
    July 2, 2017

    Lina, thank you for your insightful article. I would love to purchase a tiny house on a trailer and park it on a property until it’s paid off so that I could eventually rent it out. I’m having a hard time finding any resource that lists property owners in the Portland area willing to host or take on ADUs…any ideas? Thanks again!

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