What’s a Mother-in-Law Apartment? Should You Rent One?

You’re on the prowl for a new place to rent in your city’s super competitive rental market — so you think outside the box! One of your coworkers mentions a mother-in-law apartment for rent by one of his neighbors, and what do you do? You come to ApartmentSearch, of course! Here’s the ultimate guide on what mother-in-law apartments are, their pros and cons, and when you should consider renting one of these properties instead of a traditional apartment.

What’s a Mother-In-Law Apartment?

While the name comes from the fact that many of these dwellings are built for aging relatives to live in the same house as their family, you don’t have to be senior citizens or an actual mother-in-law to enjoy the benefits of a mother-in-law apartment.

Often called a guest house or in-law suite, mother-in-law apartments are separate living units incorporated into a larger home. They can be built in a variety of ways — as a finished basement apartment, built as a detached structure on the same property, or as a converted garage. Although they have varying floor plans, most include a bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom, and a separate entrance from the main house.

Suppose it is a secondary housing unit completely independent of the main house — meaning it includes everything from a kitchen to a bathroom — but is located on the same property. In that case, it may also be considered an official accessory dwelling unit (or ADU). This term is often used to describe being legally able to rent out that particular dwelling.

The Pros of a Mother-In-Law Apartment

According to a report by iPropertyManagement, around 36% of Americans live in rental properties, and the rental industry in the United States “has increased by nearly 3.4% since 2014, bringing in over $176 billion in revenue in 2019.” In other words, renting is a popular option for many people when it comes to where they live. But what are the benefits of living in a mother-in-law apartment?

Easy Maintenance

One of the top reasons to move into a mother-in-law apartment is that in most cases, you don’t have to worry about the responsibility of repairs, yard work, preventative maintenance, and the additional expenses that they might bring. The owners of the mother-in-law apartment — who live in the adjoining house — are typically responsible for property maintenance.

Potential Savings

Some say that paying rent for a mother-in-law apartment rent is sometimes higher than a mortgage payment. Still, they don’t consider homeownership expenses like property taxes, insurance, and higher utility bills required to maintain a full house.

With a mother-in-law apartment, all that’s required is a small deposit fee, renter’s insurance, smaller utility fees, rent, and depending on the lease, little to no monthly maintenance expenses. It allows you to save money for your future and remain flexible, as you don’t have a mortgage to tie you down.

Increased Safety

Because a mother-in-law apartment is often connected to the primary residence — or at least close by on the property — you have the security of knowing that if something happens, there are people nearby that can help you in the situation. While you have your independence, you also have people nearby to provide an additional layer of safety.

The Cons of a Mother-In-Law Apartment

Of course, living in a mother-in-law apartment does have a couple drawbacks, including:

Restricted Space and Style

When you live in a mother-in-law apartment, you have to make peace with the fact that the amenities and features you see are the amenities and features you get. There’s often no way you can add on to the property, and any decorating and renovation have to be approved by the homeowner before being undertaken.

This means you’re often restricted when it comes to personalizing your space. While some homeowners might be okay with you painting a wall, still others might require you to change it back when you move.

Delayed Repairs

While it’s great that you don’t have to fix that leaky dishwasher, it’s not so great to be at the mercy of the homeowner to get it repaired. They might be out for the night when the heater dies and not be able to get in touch with a repairman until the next day, leaving you in the cold and at their mercy.

Lack of Equity

While an advantage of living in a mother-in-law apartment is that you don’t have a hefty mortgage payment, the disadvantage is that you also don’t get any long-term financial benefits from paying rent. Your landlord can increase rent at any time, and while it can be your home, you won’t build any equity if you’re renting a property. With a mortgage payment, the interest and property taxes are usually tax-deductible. This isn’t the case with a mother-in-law apartment.

How Can I Find a Mother-In-Law Apartment for Rent?

A mother-in-law apartment isn’t going to be right for everyone. Some people will want the freedom to customize their living space without restrictions, while others are looking to build some equity in a way that renting a mother-in-law apartment just can’t provide.

But if you’re looking for an affordable option that gets you away from the crowded, often noisy traditional apartment scene and you’re not ready for a mortgage payment, a mother-in-law apartment is the way to go. But how do you find one to rent?

First, word of mouth is a great way to help you find a new place to stay. If you live or work nearby, ask people you know in the area if they know anyone renting out mother-in-law apartments.

Then there’s social media — specifically Facebook, which is useful for more than just finding out what your old friend from high school is doing for the holidays. Since Facebook ads are very local, you can get localized listings and a great idea of what things would be like in the area before moving.

And last but certainly not least, if you’re running out of ideas for good housing solutions in your area, visit ApartmentSearch to browse rentals by price, size, amenities, and more! We can help you find a mother-in-law apartment that provides you with everything you need.