What is an In-Law Quarter? (Defining Features and Benefits)


In-law quarter (small house on the right side)
In-law quarter (small house on the right side)

An in-law suite is essentially a private apartment situated on the same land as a single-family home, accommodating nearby parents, grandparents, or other relatives. This usually serves as longterm housing for multiple generations of family.

In-law quarters are not a modern idea. They have existed for many centuries and have only made a comeback in recent years because of the modern need to consolidate time and finances within families. 

Today, in-law quarters come in many forms. They can be repurposed garage apartments, guesthouses, sheds, or even remodeled bedrooms with a new bath installed to accommodate the needs of a senior citizen. Many people have also moved beyond using these units specifically for parents.

Why is it called a mother-in-law apartment?


In the past, people who wanted to buy homes with in-law suites usually did so because they thought it would be a good way to take care of their parents as they got older. These days, though, many buyers also see these kinds of properties as an opportunity to earn extra money by renting them out to guests.

What is another name for mother-in-law quarters?

In-law quarter
In-law quarter

The legal name of mother-in-law quarters is an Accessory Dwelling Unit or ADU. They’re often referred to by other names as well, including:

  • Accessory apartment
  • Basement apartment
  • Backyard apartment
  • Backyard cottage
  • Carriage house
  • College Crash Pad
  • Garage apartment
  • Garden cottage
  • Granny flat
  • Granny pod
  • Guest House
  • He-/ She-shed
  • Home-within-a-home
  • Hosting space
  • Mother-daughter home
  • Mother-In-Law Suite
  • Multigenerational home
  • Nanny Quarters
  • Secondary unit

What does in-law mean for renting?


An in-law suite mean for renting is another home area with a separate full bathroom, a kitchenette and at least one bedroom. It is typically located in a basement, but more recently, it can be attached or detached from the main house or even be a separate living unit on your lot.

What do you put in a mother-in-law suite?

Attached in-law quarter
Attached in-law quarter

If you’re lucky enough to have the space in your home, mother-in-law quarters can be a great way to provide comfort and independence for your parent. The three key rooms to include in such a suite would be a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchenette or kitchen. Additionally, they may also be specially personalized to suit the needs of the relatives living in the units. For example, they can have a ramp in the entryway. This will allow your parent to maintain their daily routine without disrupting the schedules of the rest of the family.

History of in-law quarters


As mentioned before, in-law quarters have existed for hundreds of years. Before the 20th century, almost every society worldwide had multi-generational families living together for many years. 

In the US, before the 20th Century and the creation of social security and women working outside the home, most people struggled to make a living. Because of this, families were made up of multiple generations, and leaving home at 18 was unrealistic. 

After social security, working women, and medicare, elderly poverty wasn’t as serious of an issue anymore. This meant that younger families could be more independent of their older relatives. 

Since the early 1900s, most Western society has moved away from multi-generational living. This created the need for nursing homes and supervised living facilities for senior citizens. However, such facilities can often be quite expensive since they are not covered by most insurance. 

By the early 2000s, in-law apartments started becoming more prevalent. They became a practical choice for families that appreciated the convenience and benefits that come with them. When two generations of parents live together, it helps the family financially as incomes and expenses become consolidated. Senior citizens also get to maintain their self-sufficiency and productivity in such arrangements. 

What are the different ways that you can use an in-law suite?

Dettached in-law quarter
Detached in-law quarter

There are many different ways to use an in-law suite. Here are some of them:

1. The mother-in-law’s suite


This is the most common use of an in-law suite, and it is a space that allows you to keep your in-laws or your parents close. Mother-in-law suites may also have accessibility features such as a ramp, a walk-in shower, and non-slip flooring. Accessibility is a great way to keep the space as practical as possible for its aging residents. 

2. Guest house


You can also use it as a guest house. Your guest house will usually be used by friends and family when they come to visit. This allows them not to worry about having to book a hotel while also having a place they can call their own where they can feel at home and relax. Typically, guest rooms have hotel accommodations like TVs, minibars, and towels to make them feel more welcoming.  

3. Nanny quarters


Sometimes, live-in nannies may be a convenient solution for a family where both parents work or when the parents work from home and need help with the children. Nanny quarters help eliminate commute time; if there is ever an emergency, there will always be a third party nearby. They also help reduce the cost of a nanny as you will be providing their room and board. Nanny quarters should have a personal kitchen and an in-unit washer and dryer. 

4. Temporary rental


You can also use your in-law quarters as a temporary rental. One of the most popular ways of doing this is by using it for Airbnb hosting. To qualify for renting with Airbnb, you will need to provide amenities separate from the primary dwelling unit. The in-law quarter should also have an entrance/exit, a sleeping area, bathroom facilities, a bathing area, a kitchen with cabinets, a sink with running water, and a stove. The unit can be attached or detached from the main unit if it follows these requirements. 

5. College crash pad


You can use your in-law quarters as their college crash pad if you have kids in college. A college crash pad is a unit that houses students during their breaks, keeping them close while also giving them the same level of independence they enjoy at school. The college crash pad can have features like private wifi, a pullout couch for friends, and storage space for things they cannot keep at school. 

6. Hosting space


You can also use your in-law quarters as hosting space. This can be very convenient when hosting dinner parties, game nights, or a watch party for the next big game. It takes the stress out of party planning because all you have to do is ensure the in-law suite is in a usable condition instead of preparing your entire home. 

7. He-/ She-shed


This is a great way to turn your in-law suite into a private escape where you can relax, explore hobbies, or exercise. You can convert your in-law suite into an art studio, gym, greenhouse, yoga studio, and more. 

Why should you have in-law quarters?

Detached in-law quarter
Detached in-law quarter

In-law quarters have several benefits. Here are some of them: 

1. They are a great way to keep your guests close. 


With in-law quarters, you can house your relatives close to you, allowing you to spend quality time with them and take care of them as they age. At the same time, you get to respect their independence while having your privacy. 

2. In-law quarters add value to your home


If you choose to sell your home after building an in-law suite, it will fetch a higher price. On average, homes with in-law quarters can be rented out at 7.2% to 9.8% higher than standard homes. 

3. If you have in-law quarters, you may be eligible for tax benefits


Depending on your location, there may be tax credits for having an in-law suite. For example, if you are paying for more than half of your relative’s support, you may be able to claim them as a dependent. You may also qualify for a home office tax deduction if you use the in-law quarters as your home office. You could also receive deductions on utilities, mortgage interest, repairs, depreciation, and insurance premiums if you rent out the space. 

4. In-law quarters can save you money


Having an in-law suite allows you to turn your home into a multigenerational home. In this way, it helps offset the cost of long-term care. This also works in other ways. For example, if you have a student living in your quarters, you’ll save money that would have been spent on living/ boarding costs. 

What are the downsides of in-law quarters?

Detached in-law quarter
Detached in-law quarter

While in-law quarters have many benefits, they also have several downsides. Here are some of them: 

1. You’ll have less privacy


When you have someone living in your in-law quarters, regardless of who they are, you will always have less privacy than before. There will always be someone home all the time, and you will never feel truly alone. Some people find it difficult to adjust to this type of arrangement when they were so used to enjoying their privacy before. 

2. In-law quarters can be costly to maintain


If you want to ensure that your in-law quarters are always maintained in a livable condition, it will cost you money. There will be additional costs for wifi, utilities, streaming services, and cleaning. Additionally, you may get unexpected expenses due to repairs associated with general wear and tear, weather, or pests. The cost of recurring things like groceries and other necessities will also go up. All these costs can add up quickly. 

3. In-law quarters are difficult to build


If you have been thinking about building an in-law suite in your home, it may be more complicated than you think. There are many factors in play when building an in-law suite. If you do not plan the construction process properly, you may make many mistakes. Such mistakes could set you back in time and money. 

Final Thoughts


As you can see, while in-law suites are usually used for relatives, they can also serve other purposes. Having an in-law suite ready in advance puts you in a better position to be ready when relatives do move in. In the meantime, you can use the space for many other purposes, including a guest house, nanny quarters, temporary rental, college crash pad, hosting space, or shed. 

Zoltan Szatmari

Zoltan is a test and industrial engineer from Europe who loves learning anything new and working on small projects. When he is not working, he is usually hiking or going to the cinema.

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