If you’ve got a large garage attached to your house and want to convert it into a living space for either yourself, other family members – or even to rent out – then converting it to live in can add value to your home. However, is it legal to do this?
It is legal for you or family members to live in your garage, or rent it out to tenants, provided you’ve fully converted it into a liveable space. You’ll need to check your local planning laws and obtain the relevant permits to do this.
Let’s dive down into this subject in more detail, and discover what you can and can’t do when it comes to converting your garage into living space – so you stay on the right side of local planning laws.
Can I Legally Live in The Garage?
Before you move the bed into your garage, stop and check out your local laws. The legality of living in your garage varies from state to state, and there may be some very specific local laws.
Broadly speaking, a garage will not count as habitable space unless it is “finished”. This building term means that a room must have proper walls, a floor, a ceiling and a heating source to count as a room.
For the garage to be classed as living space, it has to have all these things; and in order to upgrade your garage to have all these things, you may need permission from your local authority.
But can you simply move in to your own garage? After all, it’s part of your property. Local laws apply to this; however, generally speaking, you can’t live in a building that’s not classed as habitable, even if you do own it. Having said that, there’s very little a local authority can do if you use your garage for other purposes, provided it’s not causing problems for anyone else.
The real legal issues happen if you are renting an unofficial garage conversion, or renting out a garage without having the right paperwork.
Is it Illegal To Have Someone Else Living in Your Garage?
You can rent out your garage as living accommodation – provided it’s been properly converted and you have the right permissions from your local authority.
If you are thinking of converting your garage to use as a rental unit, do your homework first. There are regulations specific to rental properties, such as fire safety, and you need to take these into account as well as building and planning laws.
The costs of these may mean the rental yield simply won’t be worth all your hard work and effort. However, if your garage is new and in good condition, it may be a pretty straightforward project. Speak with your local experts to find out more.
Can I Convert My Garage into a Room Without Planning Permission?
Again, this depends on local laws and what you’re hoping to achieve with your conversion. If you have the idea to turn your garage into a home gym, sticking a cross trainer and a couple of mats in it won’t really raise any planning eyebrows. However, if you want to make an extra bedroom or perhaps a study, you have to make sure that it’s habitable.
Please speak to your local authority before you start the work. They may say that you can simply go ahead, or you may need some paperwork in place. If you’re hoping that your garage conversion will one day add value to your property (and more about this in a minute), it’s worth making sure you’ve dotted all those i’s.
A garage conversion would probably slip under the radar; however this approach is never worth it. Spend time, and if necessary a bit of money upfront, before embarking on your conversion project.
Can I Build an Apartment Over My Garage?
Building over your garage can be a great way to extend your living area, especially if your lot is tight for space. Creating new rooms over a classic attached garage is an obvious solution: but can you build an apartment?
Please don’t get fed up with us saying this; but you’ll need to check with your local planners to find out what the regulations are. Building upwards can have an impact on neighboring dwellings, so this may be something to take into consideration.
Planners will also want to know why you’re building an apartment above your garage. Is it for commercial reasons or simply to extend your family’s living quarters? Rental units have stricter regulations, broadly speaking.
Alongside this, you’ll need expert advice from a structural engineer to find out whether your garage can take this significant extra load.
You’ll also need architectural advice, as legally, an apartment needs its own separate access. This could be easy enough if you’re building over a detached garage; however if you’re extending above an attached garage, you may need to factor in an external stairwell and front door. This is the case for an in-law apartment as well as a commercial one.
If you have the space, it can be more straightforward to start from scratch (provided you can get permission) to build a separate garage and apartment unit.
Does Converting a Garage To a Bedroom Add Value?
Yes it does – provided your garage is attached to your home. Most realtors use a calculation to help determine the value which is based on the GLA square footage. The GLA is the “gross living area”, and it covers all the rooms in the house that can be lived in. An unconverted garage doesn’t count in this calculation, but a converted one might if certain criteria are met.
To be included in the house’s square footage calculation, the garage conversion needs proper walls, ceiling and floor, and also needs to share the main home’s heating system. It also needs to be attached to, and accessible from, the main house. This is because ancillary dwellings don’t count towards square footage.
However if you’re converting a detached garage into a guest room or teenage den, don’t be discouraged. It may not add value in terms of square footage, but it can be a valuable selling asset. It’s worth talking to a local realtor to see if there’s a demand for separate guest or “in-law” suites in your neighborhood.
How Much Does it Cost To Convert a Garage into a Liveable Space?
Home Advisor has a calculator on their website that helps you work out a decent rough estimate for converting your garage into a liveable space.
According to a survey that Home Advisor carried out, people paid between $5,938 and $22,458 to convert their garage into living space. That’s a pretty broad range, and Home Advisor reckon that the average is around $14,000.
Of course, costs depend on what you’re converting your garage into. A utility room may need plumbing and electrics installing, but it won’t need a high-end finish. A studio for the in-laws on the other hand, needs to meet regulations and be super-comfortable to live in. This can cost as much as $30,000.
A new living room or extra bedroom is somewhere in the region of $10,000, and up to $15,000 for a master suite. Need an extra bathroom? This can be as little as $3,000 (although this won’t get you a very luxe bathroom).
Recently, there’s been an upsurge in working from home, and the garage is an obvious place to site a home office or study. Again, this can be inexpensive, starting at about $5,000.
Of course, before you evict your car and install a new shower room, pause to think: do you have a safe space for your car to stand? You may need to factor in the cost of a car port elsewhere in your lot, if you prefer your car to be kept undercover.
And (purely out of interest), moving into their garage actually saved this family money, as they used it as a base while they worked on their main house!
If you were hoping to rent out your main house whilst squatting in your garage – sleeping on a camp bed and drinking cans of beer undetected by the local planning authorities – then you’re all out of luck. 🙂
However, if you’ve employed an architect and obtained all the relevant planning permits for your super incredible new garage apartment – then you definitely are in luck!
Not only will the refit add value to your property, but either you or other family members can live in the new garage conversion yourselves. You can even rent it out to tenants to increase your income – so it pays to do this by the book.
Homeowner and property investor Larry James founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >