Housing Changing Households: Regulatory Challenges for Micro-Units and Accessory Dwelling Units

38 Pages Posted: 13 Oct 2013 Last revised: 9 May 2015

See all articles by John Infranca

John Infranca

Suffolk University Law School

Date Written: October 10, 2013


The existing stock of affordable rental housing falls significantly short of the need in many areas of the country. In addition, available housing frequently does not match the specific needs of prospective tenants, which have changed as household sizes shrink, more people are living alone, and people are living longer. This misalignment has been exacerbated by regulatory environments that have not kept pace with evolving housing demands. Likely as a result, cities throughout the country have seen an increase in illegal housing units – units that do not conform to zoning or building codes and may not provide safe living environments. In response to these and other concerns, a number of jurisdictions have altered regulations to permit the development of more compact rental housing units, including both accessory dwelling units and micro-units. Developers have also shown significant interest in both kinds of units.

Prior studies of these unit types concentrate on a single jurisdiction or a small number of neighboring jurisdictions and discuss accessory units, but not micro-units – which raise distinct regulatory issues. No comprehensive study has examined the feasibility of developing both types of compact housing units in a range of jurisdictions. This Article provides a detailed analysis of the regulatory and other challenges to developing both types of units, focusing on five cities: New York; Washington, D.C.; Austin; Denver; and Seattle. It places these regulatory challenges in the context of broader demographic shifts and changing conceptions of the home and the relation between public and private spheres. It argues that jurisdictions should avoid considering micro-units – which have received considerable attention in the past few years – in isolation from other forms of housing, including ADUs. Both unit types have the potential to further urban infill goals, provide individuals with access to particular neighborhoods or proximity to other individuals, reduce energy consumption, and deliver new sources of affordable housing. They also serve distinct segments of the same changing spectrum of household compositions. Cities seeking to encourage development of these unit types must carefully consider how a range of regulations pose challenges to their development.

Keywords: Land Use, Property, Housing, Urban Policy, Building Regulation, Accessory Dwelling Units, Micro-units

Suggested Citation

Infranca, John, Housing Changing Households: Regulatory Challenges for Micro-Units and Accessory Dwelling Units (October 10, 2013). 25 Stanford Law & Policy Review 53 (2014), Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 13-35, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2339136

John Infranca (Contact Author)

Suffolk University Law School ( email )

120 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02108-4977
United States

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