City could make it easier to build an in-law suite behind your home

San Antonio City Council to vote Thursday on code amendments

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio City Council is mulling over a host of code changes on Thursdays, including one that would make it easier to build another, smaller residence behind your home.

The city officially refers to these smaller buildings as accessory dwelling units (ADUs) though they are also known by other names: casitas, granny flats, or in-law suites.

Equipped with their own kitchen and bathrooms, ADUs are prevalent in some neighborhoods like King William and are often used as rental units or guest houses.

The city’s Strategic Housing Implementation Plan calls for creating more ADUs, which “can build wealth for households with low incomes and support aging in place for older residents.” City staff says a proposed change to make it easier to build new ADUs would align with that.

City Council is scheduled on Thursday to consider 193 amendments to the Unified Development Code, which covers processes related to design review, demolition review, along with district and landmark creation. The update process typically happens every five years, though the current process was delayed since 2020 because of the pandemic.

One amendment would ease some of the restrictions for building new ADUs: doubling their maximum square footage, depending on the size of the main home; permitting more bedrooms and occupants; allowing them to be built closer to property lines, and permitting them to have separate utility connections rather than requiring them to be fed from the main home.

ADUs that are bigger than 800 square feet and detached from the main house would also have to have a parking spot under the proposal. It would also limit the height of a detached ADU to 25 feet or two stories.

One key current requirement would continue - owner occupancy. The owner must live on the property in either the main house or ADU, meaning only one building could be rented out.

However, the Tier One Neighborhood Coalition, which represents neighborhoods within and around Loop 410, worries that having separate utilities would make it even easier for real estate investors to buy a property with an ADU and split it into two separate rental units.

“And your single-family home will now become an investor duplex,” said Bianca Maldonado, a member of the group’s steering committee.

Although the practice is already expressly forbidden in the city code, Maldonado says the city’s enforcement is lacking.

Development Services Department Assistant Director Melissa Mota Ramirez says the city doesn’t have any complaints about ADUs that are currently in violation.

Owners seeking to build a new ADU have to sign an affidavit saying they live on the property, which is filed with the county.

The city does not have staff out looking for violations later on, but Ramirez said they would look into any instances that are reported.

“If they don’t live on the property, they’re in violation of the ADU amendment - or the ADU regulations - they would have to rezone their property. That would be the next step in the development process that they would have to comply with,” Ramirez said.

Maldonado says Tier One wants the proposed change for the utilities and the reduced setbacks, which she says pose a fire risk, removed from the amendments before the council passes it.

City staff, however, said the reduced setback requirement - from five feet off down to three feet - also means additional fire protections for those that use it.

City Council is scheduled to vote Thursday at 9 a.m.

About the Authors

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.

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