Accessorizing Your Real Property!


Authored By: Benjamin DeMarsh, Esq. and Ryan Featherstone, Esq.

Sarasota County plans to adopt a new ordinance (No. 2019-024) that amends the Sarasota County Unified Development Code and expands the ability of property owners to utilize accessory dwelling units in many residential areas of the County.  Accessory dwelling units, or “ADUs”, are smaller freestanding or connected dwelling units located on the same lot as a principal dwelling.  They are commonly known as granny flats, mother-in-law suites, or secondary suites.  ADUs have the potential to dramatically increase the supply of affordable housing within many residentially zoned areas in Sarasota County.

Across the country, many municipalities are taking steps to encourage the use of ADUs, and Sarasota County seems to be on the forefront of this trend.  The Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to adopt this new ordinance governing ADUs in late September 2019. Sarasota County Residents can expect to see the new ordinance implemented as soon as this year.

The Unified Development Code will be amended as follows:

  1. Removes language limiting ADUs only in subdivisions created after October 27, 2003.  This is likely to be the most significant change, as it is mostly older housing that has the capability of adding ADUs due to less restrictive or no HOA rules existing in older subdivisions, as HOA restrictions against ADUs will preempt the ordinance. 
  2. Increases the allowable size of ADUs from 500 sq. feet to 750 sq. feet.
  3. Eliminates ADUs from building density calculations.
  4. Accessory dwelling units can now include a kitchen.  This is another significant change to the existing code, allowing the ADU to now be a fully functioning guest or rental suite.
  5. Maintains the prohibition of ADUs on the Barriers Islands, but adds a prohibition in cluster subdivisions.

Sarasota County’s adoption of this ordinance is not without critics.  Many argue that ADUs will decrease property values, affect homeowners’ homestead tax exemptions, and result in numerous covert rental operations (e.g. Airbnb).  Fortunately, the County has taken concrete steps to ensure that ADUs are not abused by investors and do not have a negative impact on existing homeowners.

There are several key requirements that all property owners should keep in mind before building their dream ADU:

  1. The owner must occupy either the accessory dwelling unit or the principal dwelling unit.  ADUs are not appropriate for investment property.  Part of the County’s goal is to increase the supply of affordable housing for young professionals, elderly, married couples without children, and to allow families to care for their aging relatives who want an alternative to a nursing home.  
  2. Rental restrictions applicable to all homes in Sarasota County will still apply to residences and their ADUs.  Same as for the principal structure, ADUs cannot be rented for periods less than 30 days at a time.
  3. Owners will need to ensure the ADU and principal structures do not exceed max building coverage requirements for the lot and setback requirements for the principal structure.
  4. The ADU needs to have same the height, finish and style of the principal structure.
  5. One parking space is required per ADU, which could be tandem parking, or shell or grass surfacing and cannot be street parking.

Dunlap Moran will be closely monitoring this development, and will be available to answer questions for any property owners considering building an ADU.

This blog is intended for informational purposes only and it is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice or legal opinion.  The reader should not consider this information to be an invitation to an attorney/client relationship, should not rely on information presented here for any purpose, and should always seek the legal advice of counsel in the appropriate jurisdiction.