Seattle and the Backyard Cottage

It’s all the rage!  The tiny house.  The Granny Pod.  The little house that you can AirBnB and make tons of money to pay your mortgage.  More and more existing and hopeful homeowners have big dreams of buying a house that they can live in and build a Backyard Cottage (the City of Seattle refers to that as a DADU, Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit).

Right now, the City of Seattle hasn’t exactly made it easy, fast or cost effective to build a DADU on your property. 

Watch the video here.

Let’s look at some of the current rules:

  • The home owner is required to live in main house or the DADU, and must sign an owner occupancy covenant.
  • The DADU can’t exceed 800 sq/ft when built on a lot zoned single-family, and can’t exceed 650 sq/ft when built in a lowrise zone.
  • In most neighborhoods, the DADU must have one off-street parking space.
  • The existing lot must be at least 4,000 sq/ft
  • Only one DADU may be built on each lot.
  • You need to get full permits from the City to build the DADU, and that may require additional electrical service and sewer connections.

Why the current rules, well, suck:

  • The permitting process is almost impossible for an average resident to navigate.  That means that you will need to hire at least one professional to help you through the process.  That adds significant cost to the project.
  • The City does not have a streamlined permitting process.  For example, once you finally get the building permit, then you have to start an entirely new process to get an electrical permit.  This adds time, cost and frustration to an already unnecessarily long process.
  • The permitting process can take up to 6 months.  That is 6 months of carrying costs and lost income.  And that doesn’t even include the time it takes to build the Backyard Cottage.
  • The required off-street parking space for each DADU makes it impossible for 35% of Seattle home owners to even consider adding an DADU, as they have zero existing off-street parking and no feasible way to add any.

Why MORE Backyard Cottages will help Seattle:

  • Building DADU’s will slow home demolitions.  I think we are all a little sad that so many of our old and charming homes are getting bulldozed.  Although some houses are just ready to be demolished, others are still in wonderful shape.  We can preserve the historic charm of our neighborhoods while still adding the much needed density.
  • The recent Environmental Impact Study (that spanned two years and kept Seattle from adding an estimated 300 DADU’s during that time) has provided clear evidence that allowing more DADU’s will not harm the character of existing neighborhoods OR grossly impact our precious street parking .  *Fun fact – DADU’s became legal in 2009, and since then, only 292 have been built*
  • Providing more homes for people to live in-city will reduce traffic.  When people who work in the City can live in the City, they are far more likely to walk/bike/use mass transit, therefore reducing the number of cars on the road.
  • Increase access, diversity and inclusion within single-family areas.

Things Might Get Easier:

  • Mayor Jenny Durkan directed the Department of Construction and Inspections to fast-track pre-approved designs for DADU’s..
    • The City will hire architects to develop several standardized plans for Backyard Cottages.
    • A typical fee for an architect to design a backyard cottage is $10,000- $30,000.  Having standardized plans available will be a huge cost savings to homeowners.
    • By using the standard plans, permitting time will be cut by 50%.
    • By reducing costs associated with planning, reducing permitting times and creating a clearer and easier path to building DADU’s this should encourage many more Seattle homeowners to build DADU’s on their property.

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