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Grandparents and Accessory Dwelling Units: Preserving Intimacy and Independence

18 Pages Posted: 8 Sep 2012  

Margaret F. Brinig

Notre Dame Law School

Date Written: September 7, 2012


Cities around the United States (and, to varying degrees, in Canada, Britain, and Australia), today confront a problem that people did not envision twenty or even ten years ago, when municipalities heavily favored single-family residences, and were permitted to exclude other forms under what is known as Euclidean zoning. Currently, the issue of whether to allow owners in single family-zoned neighborhoods to build living spaces that might house elderly relatives or their caregivers is being hotly contested in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and made recent news in Ft. Worth, Texas, and Arlington, Virginia. Legislative responses have varied from wholesale acceptance, including subsidies, loans, and waiving of permit fees; to outright prohibition.

While other ongoing work asks the question of why the issue has become contested, why we see the wide variety of responses (even in a single state), and what interest groups are behind proponents and opponents, this paper considers the family connection with alternative dwelling units (ADUs). Does living near to but not with their children solve a particular problem for many elderly citizens, or does living in this form of housing reduce their well-being? Even assuming grandparents are better off, what about their children and grandchildren?

Keywords: zoning, elder grandparents, child care, housing, granny flat, second unit

JEL Classification: K19, K34

Suggested Citation

Brinig, Margaret F., Grandparents and Accessory Dwelling Units: Preserving Intimacy and Independence (September 7, 2012). Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 12-72. Available at SSRN: or

Margaret Friedlander Brinig (Contact Author)

Notre Dame Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 780
3157 Eck Hall of Law
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0780
United States
574-631-2303 (Phone)
574-631=8078 (Fax)

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