Mother In Law Suites: Everything You Should Know

The PropertyClub Team
Aug 14th 2020
There are a lot of terms in architecture that tend to go in and out of fashion regularly. For many of us younger people, hearing the term mother in law suite might raise an eyebrow. So, what is a mother in law suite, anyway?

Though they aren’t as common as they once were, in-law suites are starting to make a comeback. If you’re not sure what they are or just are curious about what they offer, you’re not alone. It’s time we clear up the air on what it is.

What Is A Mother In Law Suite?

A mother-in-law suite is essentially a guest house that's meant to house your in-laws. Historically, having multigenerational housing was the norm rather than the exception. When a middle-class couple got married, they often were expected to make sure that at least one set of in-laws (usually the wife’s) would have a place to stay in their old age. 

The mother-in-law suite (or house) acted as a small apartment with a kitchenette, bedroom, and bathroom. It would usually be separate from the house, but on the same property to ensure that the married couple would get their privacy. 

Nowadays, it’s possible to get a mother in law suite attached to your home. However, that’s more of an exception to the rule rather than the rule itself.  

Are Mother In Law Suites Expensive?

For the most part, you won’t find a middle-income home with a mother-in-law suite. Since having an in-law suite essentially means you have a separate, second house on your property, they’re usually found in upscale neighborhoods or areas that are known for expansive land plots. 

Erecting a new in-law suite is not much different than trying to build a brand new home. If you were hoping to save money by building it on your property, you will be in for an ugly surprise. 

Can You Build An In-Law Suite From A Modular Home Kit?

Yes! Modular home kits are among the most common ways to add a new in-law suite to your property. These work well because they are cheaper than traditional homebuilding techniques and can be erected in smaller amounts of time. 

What Do People Do With A Mother In Law Suite?

The tradition of having multigenerational housing isn’t as common as it once was. While some still practice the age-old tradition of having parents live on their property, assuming that it’s the norm isn’t a smart idea. 

The more common use for a mother in law suite is as a rental property on their home property, like what one may do for an Airbnb. Of course, if people don’t want to rent their in-law suites, they can always use it as a guest house, a place for housekeepers to stay, or an apartment for a teenager in need of personal space.

Is There Such A Thing As A Father In Law Suite?

Though the term suggests that there may be a masculine (or at least alternative) counterpart to the mother in law suite, the truth is that there’s only one real apartment type that fits the “in-law” bill. 

The term is still evolving, even though it has its roots in centuries-old traditions. These days, many people are eschewing the use of gendered terms, shortening the term to “in-law suite.”

Why Are Mother-In-Law Suites So Rare?

There are multiple reasons why having an in-law suite is so unusual in the modern real estate scene. The following issues add to their rarity:

  • They are expensive. Most houses with a mother-in-law suite tend to be in upscale neighborhoods and are known for being older models. If you can erect a new one, you should expect to spend anywhere from $170,000 to upwards of $250,000, depending on the size of the in-law suite. 
  • You need extra land to have one. In-law suites require a decent amount of additional land, potentially limiting your ability to have one. Additionally, you’ll have to check with local ordinances to make sure you can put up a new structure. 
  • Many municipalities hate them. Due to people’s tendency to use these as rental properties, many HOAs and municipalities hate in-law suites. It’s not unusual to hear of them being banned from being built. Those that do exist are often grandfathered in. 
  • In many cases, in-law suites eventually get zoned off as their own separate homes. In older “heritage” towns, the issues that arise with in-law suites caused officials to zone them as two home plots rather than one. If you have a large home right behind a smaller home owned by your neighbor, your neighbor may be living in the old in-law suite.

Where Can You Find In Law Suites For Rent?

If you need to live in an upscale area, want some privacy, and also want to live affordably, you probably should look for an in-law suite that can be rented out. The hard part is actually finding a place that will rent one out to you.

Most online listing sites don’t have a special function to show in-law houses, which makes finding them trickier than most other apartment types. The most common ways to find an in-law suite for rent include:

  • Word of Mouth. Networking can help you find a great place to stay, especially in upscale neighborhoods that are picky about renters. If you live or work nearby, ask others in your area if they know anyone renting out guesthouses.
  • Social Media. Facebook can often prove to be a great place to find in-law apartments advertised by owners. Since these ads are very local, you can get a good grasp of what your life will be like in the area before you move.
  • Craigslist. Though it’s not the safest method out there, Craigslist is still a decent place to find apartments. Just make sure that you vet the poster before you give them any information about you. 
  • Work. Some households are desperate for live-in staff members for childcare and housekeeping purposes. If you are open to working in exchange for shelter, then you might be able to score an apartment this way. 

Conclusion

Mother in law suites initially got their start in the days when families were used to multigenerational living, but that doesn’t mean they can’t play a fantastic role in a modern lifestyle. They can be rented out, used as guest houses, and also offer the ideal place to house your additional family members.

Though they have a serious appeal among many people, the truth is that it can be hard to find a house that has an in-law suite grandfathered in. If you want to have a house with this impressive feature, you will need to move to an area that allows them and (most likely) build it yourself. While it will be a lot of work and money, it’s an investment that will pay off in a truly amazing way.