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New law makes it easier to add in-laws, apartments to homes

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 13. 2017 8:48PM

A new law goes into effect June 1 allowing homeowners to add apartments within and attached to their homes with few restrictions from their communities.

And while every community must comply, they aren’t all happy about it.

Salem Planning Director Ross Moldoff said the town already allowed homeowners to add in-law apartments in certain areas of town. But now it will be forced to allow these units in areas such as Arlington Pond, where homes already sit very close together on small winding roads and require septic systems, which can fail and pollute the waters.

“We had to increase density in these areas,” Moldoff said. “We were not in favor of this law because it took away control from the town and the state is dictating what we do. We really felt it was the wrong way of doing this.”

Then-Gov. Maggie Hassan signed the bill into law in March 2016 with proponents arguing it would help increase the availability of affordable housing while also helping the state’s rapidly aging population remain at home with live-in help. The law says communities must allow in-law apartments and other accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in all single-family zoned areas and cannot restrict size to anything less than 750 square feet.

Many communities adopted their own amendments to meet the requirements of the new law at their March town meetings, said Steve Buckley, attorney for the New Hampshire Municipal Association. He said communities were allowed to add some restrictions, such as requiring either the main home or new unit to be owner-occupied.

While the association doesn’t take formal positions on legislation, Buckley said this was one that was not embraced whole-heartedly.

“We think in general, we should allow municipalities to decide things like their zoning regulations,” Buckley said. “This ADU law is a form of statewide zoning, but it is what the law is.”

The municipal association spent much of last fall educating communities about the new law, helping them to prepare their own amendments to put to voters in March, Buckley said.

He said that while the law affects every community, it does affect them differently. He pointed to areas of historic Portsmouth, which needed to add amendments requiring any new unit meet the aesthetic requirements already set forth in current zoning.

“I think there are going to be circumstances where some town zoning rules will have some attributes that will conflict with the state law,” Buckley said. “We will see what happens.”

Moldoff agreed, saying the state was “trying to control zoning with one swipe of a broad brush.”

Kimberly LaFleur, president-elect of the Greater Manchester/Nashua Board of Realtors, said these apartments add value to a home. She said the additional living space, kitchen and bathrooms makes a property more attractive to younger families who may be taking care of their aging parents, or to parents trying to give a child just out of college and saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans a separate space.

“Our young people who are taking out student loans are trying to get an education behind them and go out into the workforce and hopefully secure a position that is going to keep them viable, living on their own, paying their bills, and buying a home,” she said. “They can’t do that with their student loans coming due and for many of them those loans are in six figures. This gives them an option.”

There are a few other things a community has control over with these new units, such as having adequate septic, sewer and water available. Buckley said a community cannot require the homeowner to add a separate septic system or well. Communities can also mandate there is enough parking to accommodate the new unit.

The law does require a door linking the unit to the main home, but does not require it to be unlocked. It also states communities can allow detached units on their property so long as they meet the same zoning requirements of the single-family home, such as required setbacks.

Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday news report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire’s aging population and seeking out solutions. Union Leader reporter Gretchen Grosky would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at or (603) 206-7739. See more at

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