Ask the Architect

The parents are moving in


Q. My parents are getting older, and we’ve discussed having them move in with us. The recent tax change also makes it more necessary, so we have less taxes to pay between both households. We want them to keep their freedom to come and go, cook and watch their television (loud) without disturbing us while our kids do homework. Are we required to do anything special to have this arrangement? What kinds of requirements are there?

A. Your community, like many, has restrictions so the municipality can control issues like parking problems, overbuilding and utility use. You would have to hire an architect or engineer to oversee the preparation of plans that show the room layout of the entire house. Those plans would identify all the room uses and sizes, second kitchen, entrances and window locations to be used for emergency escape. In many applications, the design professional may have to also prepare exterior views, either to show additions, if you’re planning to add, or just to further identify exit doors and windows.

This set of plans, along with a site plan, zoning identification and calculations, must then be submitted with multiple documents and affidavits for a building application. Since most communities don’t have an automatic process for approving what is referred to as a “mother/daughter” use, your application would receive a preliminary plan review and you would then be contacted, usually with a letter or form, explaining that your application is “objected” to or “denied.” This causes some to panic that they have hit a brick wall, but, in fact, it means you must take the next step, which is to apply, with another set of documents, to your zoning board of appeals with a variance request.

A variance simply means you are requesting to “vary” from the limitations of single-family use in your zone (district). There’s often a waiting period, because cases for a zoning hearing require that a board of individuals from your community must convene to hear your case in a public hearing, and there are often many other cases up for their consideration in this quasi-judicial public setting. Part of the reason for a waiting period is also to allow you the time to make sure official notification by mail is made to each property owner within 200 to 300 feet of your property.

Just remember, even though your neighbors are notified, it is their option to appear, and they have no right to judge your case. They may state their opinion and present evidence to support or object to your case, but they can’t make an approval or disapproval. The official board that hears your case will ask questions and make observations before voting on your case, either at the hearing or afterward, in a closed session. If the board approves, your case is sent back to the building department for building safety and code review before a permit is issued and construction begins.

© 2018 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.