By Bob Katzen

The House gave initial approval to a bill that would prohibit a city or town from using zoning laws to ban a homeowner who owns a single-family home on a lot with more than 5,000 feet, from building an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), sometimes known as an in-law apartment.

An ADU is a self-contained housing unit of 450 square feet or more that has a separate entrance, sleeping, cooking and sanitary facilities and is in an existing single-family dwelling or is in a separate structure. The ADU must be occupied by a disabled person or a person over 65 and may include up to two bedrooms, which is essential for an individual to have a live-in caregiver.

A local zoning ordinance or by-law may limit the total number of ADUs in a city or town to a percentage not lower than 5 percent of the total non-seasonal housing units in the municipality. The use of land or structures may also be subject to reasonable local regulations and must conform to all building, fire, health or sanitary codes, historic or wetlands laws or ordinances or by-laws.

“With a lack of affordable housing for people with disabilities, accessory dwelling units are a critical tool for communities to house seniors and people with disabilities,” said sponsor Rep. Christine Barber (D-Somerville).

“ADUs allow individuals to stay in their home communities, with needed supports.” continued Barber. “They also provide an option to nursing homes and can shorten the waitlist for persons seeking accessible, independent housing options. [The bill] is a necessary step towards creating affordable and accessible housing options that meet the needs of all members of our community.”

Opponents said that the bill takes away power from local cities and towns and their zoning boards. They argued that local officials and residents know their local communities best and said a “one size fits all” state law is not a good idea

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