Speaking out: Have you heard of ADUs, ALUs or in-law suites? If not, you will

  • Elliott Hartstein

    Elliott Hartstein

By Elliott Hartstein
Speaking Out
Updated 3/3/2022 8:29 AM

ADUs, ALUs, Granny Flats, Mother-in-Law suites and In-Law units.

Have you heard those terms? If you haven't , you should know that they are being discussed throughout the country including Northbrook and many other towns. The terms are among many names used to identify accessory dwelling units or accessory living units . Most professional planners refer to them as ADUs. These are living facilities, attached or detached, on the same lot as an existing primary residence, in most cases a single family home.


It is really an old idea that is coming back about having a second small dwelling on the same grounds or attached to a single family house. Most communities stopped allowing them in the middle of the 20th century , but the concept is being revived for housing family members or gaining some income from rent. The question that now arises is whether they should be permitted and on what basis.

At a time when many seniors have homes that have rooms they don't use or need, or property taxes and other expenses they may not be able to afford, the concept has emerged as potential affordable housing in a family members home , or as a means of generating income to make their own homes more affordable. The concept also lends itself to college kids coming home before they can afford their own home, or for a disabled family member that wants and needs some place of their own close to a family member as opposed to a group living or institutional setting. With the cost of senior assisted living or independent living continuing to skyrocket, allowing seniors to have an alternative that allows them to stay in their own homes or in a family member's home, an ADU may be a good alternative. That has led to asking whether home owners should be able to use their existing homes to provide living space for family members or otherwise to generate some rental income from their home to make it more affordable to stay there. They might even consider downsizing to and live in an ADU and rent out the rest of the house.

The concept has seemed to catch on in many communities, with different approaches, but with some resistance from residents, who suggest it might change the character of neighborhoods, or bring down property values.

People having been building additions for years as long as they comply with established municipal rules, and why shouldn't people be able to decide how to use their own homes and property subject to reasonable regulations.

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Allowing people to try to safeguard that basic concept led State Rep. Robyn Gabel to introduce a bill in Springfield awhile back that was not voted upon but have prevented communities from prohibiting ADUs while still allowing them to have reasonable rules.

Whether such a bill ever gets legs or not, the crux of the issue seems to be what are those reasonable regulations and whether people should have a right to have an ADU subject to community standards.

The current Northbrook discussions have reflected debate over such issues with some board members believing it should be a right and others suggesting that one could not proceed to have an ADU without seeking a special permit that would allow neighbors to lodge objections after notice that their neighbors sought an ADU, and leaving the Village Board to sit in judgment.

That in fact would pit neighbors against neighbors and potentially create more divisiveness, which we have enough of. Ironically under current law which they intend to codify, one can have a what Northbrook seems to refer to as an accessory living unit (an ALU) in their home as long as there was an interior door to the rest of the house.


If however one sought to have no such door into the house and only an access to an outside side or rear door it would be considered an ADU which required a special permit to allow one to have such a unit.

As I believe Village President Ciesla noted, that seemed like a distinction without a difference since one could lock such interior door. What say you? This concept will be back before the board for a vote in early March and you may wish to share your thoughts. The Northbrook Board focused their discussion on only allowing attached ADUs and not allowing separate free standing units elsewhere on the lot.

Though some communities may choose to allow such detached units, that certainly seems like an example of a reasonable regulation to maintain the character of single family neighborhoods.

As opposed to requiring special permits to allow people to proceed with an ADU, merely requiring people wanting an ADU to give notice to the village with an affidavit confirming adherence to village regulations would give law enforcement and fire departments to know that there might be others living in a separate attached unit from a life safety perspective.

That approach would give the right to all as long as they lived by the rules. Follow up discussions have suggested that ADU's should be limited to situations only for those over 55 years of age or for persons with disabilities.

I think this is somewhat restrictive and does not allow for a college student returning home or possibly a recently widowed or divorced person or family member.

It seems that allowing maximum of 2 adults and no children might be better approach to limit any adverse impact on schools. Of course reasonable existing regulations on parking vehicles and standard building requirements and only allowing one ADU to be part of an existing single family home, and prohibiting short term rentals might also be reasonable regulations that any homeowner should be expected to adhere to. There probably should be a right to petition for reasonable variations from some regulations based on demonstrated hardships. Only in such special situations should a special use permit and hearing be needed. All of these considerations should be part of discussion in Northbrook and any other community talking about ADUs.

• Elliott Hartstein of Northbrook is an attorney and a former Buffalo Grove village president. Is there a local issue you'd like him to tackle in a column? Email him at elliotthartstein@yahoo.com.

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