Fulton Grace Realty

Chicago Coach Houses Explained

In December 2020, the Chicago City Council expanded housing access for many people by allowing the construction and legal use of ADUs. What’s an ADU? Defined by the City Council, an ADU is an additional dwelling unit; a secondary living space on the property of a Chicago residential home. People call these ‘in-law apartments’ or ‘granny flats’ or ‘coach houses.’

ADUs were in use through most of Chicago’s history, but in 1957 they were restricted by zoning ordinances that required additional parking and banned ‘secondary residential structures’ on Chicago home lots. Of course, many of these homes and apartments were nevertheless built and used; but they were illegal. The December 2020 action by the City Council legalized these spaces and allowed the construction and renovation of new ones.

Here are the areas where coach houses, ‘in-law apartments’ and backyard homes are now legal:

— North Zone, covering portions of Edgewater, Lake View, Lincoln Square, North Center, Uptown, and West Ridge

— Northwest Zone, covering portions of the Albany Park, Avondale, East Garfield Park, Hermosa, Irving Park, Logan Square, Near West Side, and West Town

— West Zone, covering portions of East Garfield Park, North Lawndale, South Lawndale, and West Garfield Park community areas

— South Zone, covering portions of Ashburn, Auburn Gresham, Chatham, Chicago Lawn, Englewood, Greater Grand Crossing, Roseland, Washington Heights, Washington Park, West Englewood, West Lawn, and Woodlawn

— Southeast Zone, covering portions of East Side, Hegewisch, South Chicago, and South Deering community areas.


Some additional rules: 

There’s no new parking requirement for the new construction of coach houses. Though there is one caveat; existing parking cannot be destroyed or deleted to build a new coach house or ADU.

Since this article deals with coach houses, we’ll talk about them more specifically.

Simply, the Chicago rules call a coach house any occupied secondary structure that’s detached from the primary residence. These can be above a garage (in the classic style) or simply a structure on its own. If the structure isn’t separate from the existing residence, it’s not a coach house anymore; it’s a ‘conversion unit’ which is treated differently in zoning regulations. Conversion units can only be built in existing houses that are over 20 years old.

Another important defining feature of a coach house concerns its size; no coach house can be over 700 square feet in size, nor can it be over 22 feet in height. Finally, the city limits coach houses to having a single dwelling unit. There’s one more big rule concerning the renting of a coach house; the minimum rental term for coach houses is 31 days. In other words, no Airbnb.

The new coach house rules also help out homeowners that wish to expand or renovate an old coach house.  As mentioned previously, for a good while it was illegal to build coach houses in Chicago, but many were constructed before the ban in the late 50s. While the ban was in effect, only ‘incidental repairs’ were allowed. This meant a homeowner was severely limited in terms of how much work could be done on the structure.

Now, an old coach house can be legally renovated or expanded to the same size as is required for new coach houses. Basically, if you have a coach house that’s only 450 square feet, you can expand it to 700. If an existing coach house is 15 feet tall, you could expand the height up to 22.

Coach houses and the new coach house ordinances really expand the group of homes available for rent and purchase in Chicago! Lots of people don’t have the need or want the space of a whole house. Namely, single people, older people, people without kids, or simply people who wish to ‘live smaller.’ The reduced footprint of a coach house means it costs much less to heat one in the winter and cool one down in the summer. 

If you’re interested in buying or renting a coach house, search our listings or get in touch with a FultonGrace real estate broker today!



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