Affordable housing and rental income: Accessory Dwelling Units

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Living in single-family houses in downtown Orlando can be expensive — at least that’s the perception. A new change to the rules should help alleviate some of the problem, by allowing for more “accessory dwelling units” (ADUs). 

So what is an accessory dwelling unit? It’s the technical name for any additional place to live by a single-family house on the same lot, and goes by many names: mother-in-law suite, garage apartment, granny flat, carriage house, backyard cottage or Fonzie Flat. Even a tiny home placed beside the primary house could be an ADU. Some can be attached to the primary house, but most are not. 

On May 15, City of Orlando staff presented a proposed amendment for

A new ADU is being built at 5 Hill Ave. behind the primary house built in 1921. An accessory dwelling unit is the technical name for any additional place to live by a single-family house on the same lot.

the Land Development Code to the Municipal Planning Board for ADUs in all single-family zoning districts, provided the owner complies with the minimum lot size and necessary parking requirements.  

Some of the changes include allowing for smaller ADUs depending on lot size, simplifying and standardizing codes city-wide, requiring appearance review, eliminating the need for extra parking for units smaller than 500 square feet, and making rear-yard setback the same as side-yard setback. 

Many older homes in Orlando already have ADUs, but city codes made it difficult to build new ADUs, hence the change. According to the city, “ADUs exist in many single-family lots in the historical areas of the city as well as in some of our new communities such as Baldwin Park and Laurate Park with few negative effects.”  


The City lists the benefits of ADUs as follows: 

  • Sandwich generation: Many times, they provide on-site housing solutions for the “sandwich generation” trying to find housing for in-laws and “boomerang” children.  
  • Encourages aging in place: Provide an option for retired individuals to either live in their ADU or the main house and rent out the other unit.  
  • Neighborhoods: Encourage diversity by allowing access to single-family neighborhoods to individuals who normally are limited to apartment and townhome neighborhoods because of price or other factors.  
  • Workforce housing: Provide housing options for first-year teachers, firemen, etc.  
  • Utilizes existing infrastructure: ADUs generally do not need major off-site utility or road improvements.  
  • Environmental benefits: Smaller units have less water demands (no additional yard) and require less energy to heat and cool (smaller carbon foot print) than single family lots. 


ADUs help create more affordable housing in two ways. First, they allow renters to live downtown with a lower rent when compared with renting an entire single-family house. ADUs typically have one bedroom, one bathroom and a small kitchenette, while most single-family homes in downtown Orlando have at least three bedrooms and two bathrooms.  

Second, having an ADU provides the homeowner with rental income, which often helps pay for their mortgage and allows them to own a house in downtown. ADUs often have their own small yard space as well.  

Nate Ritter rents an ADU in Thornton Park and loves the location it affords. “It was just the right size and price,” he said. “I have more privacy than an apartment and don’t need the amenities since it’s such a great location.”  

The amendment passed the second reading at the Orlando City Council’s Sept. 4 meeting.

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