Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity (ECHO) – A Temporary Modular In-Law Addition

Are you considering having your parents move in with family? If so, are you considering building an “in-law” addition to your home to provide them (and you) with a private space? Perhaps you are even considering making it a temporary addition, which can be removed when you no longer need it. Unfortunately, you probably will need to build your addition as a permanent structure, since very communities allow truly temporary additions. It’s not been for lack of trying, however. Here’s a little history.

Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity (ECHO)

It started with the fact that families are sometimes prevented by local zoning regulations from building an in-law addition in single-family neighborhoods. There are several reasons why communities pass regulations that exclude such in-law apartments. The two most common are to preserve property values and safeguard neighborhoods from transient residents. In the early 1980s, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) proposed a zoning solution that would respect these concerns yet allow families to build an apartment for their elderly parents. The proposal became known as the Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity program (ECHO).

An ECHO modular in-law addition added to the right side of this modular T-Ranch
An ECHO modular in-law addition has been added to the right side of this modular T-Ranch

The core idea of the ECHO program was to allow a family to build an in-law apartment on their property as long as they agreed to remove it once their parents moved on. After the temporary addition was removed, the property would be restored to a single-family residence, bringing it into compliance with the community’s zoning restrictions. To make this possible, the temporary addition would either have to be discarded or relocated. Virtually all advocates of the program recognized that a modular home would make it possible to relocate and reuse the apartment each time the occupants vacated it.

In theory, the ECHO program worked on multiple levels. Many families who want to help care for their elderly parents are not looking to create a permanent in-law apartment. They do not want to maintain it or pay the additional taxes, they are not interested in becoming landlords after their parents no longer live there, and they would like to reclaim that part of their yard that has been taken over by the apartment. On the other hand, they do not want to dispose of an in-law apartment that is in usable shape. They would prefer to recoup some of their investment by perhaps passing the apartment on to another family who needed it.

Unfortunately, the ECHO program has yet to take hold. The necessary zoning regulations have not passed. Fortunately, many communities already have zoning regulations that allow for a permanent in-law addition. And they also allow for these structures to be dismantled in the future, as long as you obtain a permit and comply with the regulations. The one caveat, however, is that you must build the temporary addition as if you intend to keep it as a permanent apartment. This means it must comply with all building codes that apply to a new residential home.

Temporary Modular Addition

An advantage to using a modular home for a temporary in-law addition is that it can be disassembled into a few intact sections that can be easily relocated. This is seldom a viable option for a stick-framed addition. The disassembly of a modular temporary addition requires that the general contractor (GC) carry out the same steps he executed to button-up an addition, but in reverse. This should take considerably less time and cost considerably less money than the assembly. The GC would likely need to do the following:

(   )  Disconnect the plumbing, electrical, and heating systems

(   )  Remove the siding where necessary

(   )  Separate the modules at the marriage wall, inside and outside

(   )  Lower the roof on each module

(   )  Lift the modules off the foundation with a crane and crew

(   )  Place the modules on rented transporters that have all of the necessary permits

(   )  Deliver the modules to their next home

(   )  Restore the property to its original condition, including removing the foundation

The disassembly of the temporary modular addition will render some of the materials unusable for the next owner. Some of the shingles will need to be replaced, for example, as will some plumbing and heating components installed in the basement. If you are buying your modular addition directly from a modular manufacturer, consider buying extra materials so the next owner will have matching replacements when it comes time for them to reassemble the addition.

For more information about Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity (ECHO) Temporary Modular In-Law Additions, see Building a Modular Addition in my book The Modular Home.

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