The financial crisis and weak economy has caused many families to make choices they would never have considered a decade ago, such as renting out spare rooms in their homes. Unfortunately, as the Wall Street Journal reports, many families have attempted this only to find that it is illegal. In years past, cities and counties across the country passed regulations forbidding rentals in single-family homes, often going so far as to bar the construction of second kitchens or bathrooms in certain areas of a house. In some cases, this even precludes homeowners from modifying garages or other rooms to accommodate live-in grandparents or adult children.These restrictions may even make it harder for some families struggling with mortgage payments to keep their homes. Renting a room could stave off foreclosure, if not for opposition from local governments and neighbors:
[C]onstructing accessory units in existing homes is drawing ire. The planning board in Montgomery County, Md., has asked the county council to consider a measure to allow conversions without homeowners going through a public hearing. Still, homeowners worry about strained public utilities, schools and even the availability of parking spaces. They say illegal conversions have been a problem for some time now.“This is a good way to supplement income on a fixed income like retirees,” said Valerie Berton, spokeswoman for the planning department. “People would much prefer to see this than see foreclosures happening.”
Zoning needs to be less rigid. The idea that every house holds one and one only nuclear family is obsolete. And the idea that suburbs are dormitories for residential purposes only and that people need to make long commutes between suburban bungalows and office towers in the city center needs to change. In the 21st century, the home is going to more of a workplace, and we will have more mixed use developments and more people will want to do more of their work at home. Overly strict zoning laws and homeowner association rules make it hard for people to organize their lives as they see fit.There are sensible, middle of the road solutions between an anything goes philosophy that lets people convert half their home into a boarding house and the other into a McDonald’s franchise and a rigid adherence to outdated rules. But it’s in the national interest to let people find ways to unlock some income earning potential from their homes, and encouraging small family businesses is part of how we can build a more prosperous future in a post-industrial world.