Currently, construction of new Backyard Cottages (BYCs) or Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in Raleigh is not permitted.

The Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) is under review now, and allowing for Backyard Cottages is a major point of discussion. ADUs will encourage density and diversity, provide mixed-income housing options, and allow for sustainable housing life cycles. Read more about the benefits of ADUs here.

Although you currently cannot build accessory dwellings, you can build accessory structures, and then plan for their future conversion into a dwelling. You can Get Started today by using our guide to learn about your property’s constraints and its ADU potential.

The following sections will help you understand Raleigh’s current and future* regulations.

*Future regulations are currently under review. The implementation of backyard cottages into the UDO is uncertain.

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Current Regulations

What does code say about accessory dwellings?

What is a dwelling?

Since accessory dwellings are not permitted, what are the guidelines for accessory structures?

What are the square footage constraints for accessory structures?

What are the setback regulations for accessory structures?

Future Regulations

What is the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO)?

What does the UDO say about accessory dwelling units?

What are the proposed regulations for accessory apartments?

What are the proposed regulations for backyard cottages?

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Current Regulations

What does code say about accessory dwellings?

Accessory dwellings are not permitted. Code directly states that an “Accessory detached building including storage shed, storage tank, greenhouse, horsestall, gazebo or garage”  is permitted if… (City Code §10-2075e-03):

  • The accessory structure or building is not an apartment or dwelling.

We should define the difference between an accessory dwelling (which is not permitted), and an accessory structure (which is permitted). By understanding this difference, you can construct a new accessory structure today, and when the UDO passes (depending on BYC regulations), you can convert this structure to an accessory dwelling.

What is a dwelling?

In order to understand the difference between an accessory dwelling and an accessory structure, let’s begin with what City Code and the NC Residential Code define as a dwelling.

dwelling unit (City Code §10-2073a):

  • One (1) or more rooms physically arranged as to create an independent house-keeping establishment with separate facilities for cooking, sleeping, and toilet.

The minimum requirements for dwellings, will also be applicable for accessory dwellings. If you have future intentions of converting an accessory structure to an accessory dwelling, you should have the space to comply with these minimums requirements outlined by the 2012 NC Residential Code (R306 and R307).

  • Every dwelling unit shall be provided with a water closet, lavatory, and a bathtub or shower (R306.1)
  • Each dwelling unit shall be provided with a kitchen area and every kitchen area shall be provided with a sink. (R306.2)
  • Fixtures shall be spaced in accordance with (R307.1) the following illustration:

Since accessory dwellings are not permitted, what are the guidelines for accessory structures?

An accessory structure is permitted if it complies with these guidelines (City Code §10-2075e-03):

  • There is a (principle) dwelling located on the lot.
  • The accessory structure is constructed in the rear yard area. (City Code §10-2075a: The rear yard area is located between the rear line of the principal building … and the rear boundary of a lot … and extending along the entire width of the lot.)
  • On lots of 5,000 sqft or less, garages and accessory structures that are more than 150 sqft must be constructed of materials compatible with the principle dwelling.
  • Only 1 detached garage shall be permitted on the property.

What are the square footage constraints for accessory structures?

The current square footage constraints for accessory structures:

  • No more than 1/2 the required rear yard area is occupied by accessory structure(s) or building(s).
  • The size of a garage is limited to 1/2 the required rear yard area, or 500 sqft, whichever is less.

What are the setback regulations for accessory structures?

Setbacks for accessory structures are much more lenient than setbacks for the principle dwelling:

  • Accessory structures must maintain a minimum setback from the rear and side property lines equivalent to the zoning district’s side yard setback (R-6 through R-30 = 5 feet). If corner lot, see below.
  • If the structure is less than 150 sqft, it must maintain a minimum setback from the rear and side property lines of 3 feet.
  • On a corner lot: If the accessory structure is in the rear yard area, the structure must be set back at or behind the front yard of the adjacent lot (if the back-door neighbor’s house is setback more than 20 feet from the front property line) or the minimum district front yard setback (R-6 through R-30 = 20 feet), whichever is greater.

Future Regulations*

*Disclaimer: Future regulations are under review and could be modified.

What is the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO)?

Raleigh is currently undergoing a reform of its code and development regulations. The Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) is a document that will outline new development regulations in accordance with the 2030 Comprehensive Plan.

The first draft of the UDO was released in April 2011. The public review period lasted for 2 months. In January 2012 a revised draft of the UDO was released. The Planning Commission reviewed the text change and presented recommendations to the City Council in September 2012. Review of the UDO is now in the hands of the City Council.

New update: ADUs, or backyard cottages, are currently a major topic of discussion, and their implementation into the UDO is uncertain. The subject has been deferred to the Comprehensive Planning Committee for further discussion.

What does the draft UDO say about accessory dwelling units?

A major benefit to the Raleigh community, accessory dwelling units may* be reintroduced into our city fabric through the UDO.

The UDO refers to two types of accessory dwellings units (Sec. 6.7.3):

  • Accessory Apartment: an attached accessory dwelling unit
  • Backyard Cottage: a detached accessory dwelling unit

*Future regulations are currently under review. The implementation of backyard cottages into the UDO is uncertain.

What are the proposed regulations for accessory apartments?

An accessory apartment (a “self-contained dwelling unit within a house, ex. attic or basement apartment) will be allowed provided it complies with the following regulations (Sec. 2.4.3):

  • Only one accessory apartment is allowed per lot.
  • A single lot can only have either 1 accessory apartment or 1 backyard cottage, not both.
  • No more than 2 people may occupy an accessory apartment.
  • One additional on-site parking space is required.
  • The lot must meet the minimum lot size standards in the district.
  • The living area may not exceed the living area of the detached house. The size of the accessory apartment must not exceed 700 square feet.

What are the proposed regulations for backyard cottages?

A backyard cottage (a “self-contained” dwelling unit in the backyard of a house) will be allowed provided it complies with the following regulations (Sec. 2.4.2):

  • Only one backyard cottage is allowed per lot.
  • A single lot can only have either 1 backyard cottage or 1 accessory apartment, not both.
  • No more than 2 people may occupy a backyard cottage.
  • One additional on-site parking space is required. Vehicular access must be from an alley when present, or from the street.
  • The lot must meet the minimum lot size standards in the district.
  • Backyard cottages are permitted in these districts: R-1, R-2, R-4, R-6, R-10, RX-, OX-, NX-, and CX-.
  • The overall height must not exceed 25 feet.
  • The wall plate height (the exterior wall up to the soffit/roof/eave) must not exceed 15 feet.
  • The backyard cottage must be located in the rear yard.
  • Living area (sqft) and setbacks are specific to lot size:

*Future regulations are currently under review. The implementation of backyard cottages into the UDO is uncertain.

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