Is a shed considered a dwelling? Maybe. If you are trying to decide if a shed is a dwelling, several factors come into play, and while many local municipalities and cities often have this issue defined, others are still trying to decide.
Of course, legal interpretations may vary depending on jurisdiction. Nonetheless, I’ll provide you with a general overview of the factors that cities might consider when determining whether that shed you want to build or remodel qualifies as a dwelling.
More than anything else, the primary factor cities consider is the intended use of the structure. This is where intent comes in to play, and if you plan to use the shed primarily as a home, mother-in-law suite, or short-term rental, then you are probably signaling that it is, in fact, a dwelling.
If a garden shed is designed and used solely for storage purposes, such as storing tools, equipment, or garden supplies, it is less likely to be considered a dwelling. However, if the shed is intended and used as a place of habitation or for living purposes, it may be categorized as a dwelling. How do they know if you intend to use it as a dwelling, if you don’t tell them directly? If bathrooms are kitchenettes are being installed, that is a giveaway. And of course, if they see it show up on AirBnB, they will know your intent.
If your shed requires a permit of any kind, it is likely that they will ask you the intended use on the application.
Size and Construction
We have written about the sizes of sheds before, and the size and construction of the shed also play a crucial role in how the city or local government classifies your shed. Generally, dwellings are larger and more substantial in structure, often meeting specific building codes and regulations. If the shed is small, lacks essential amenities, or is constructed in a manner that doesn’t meet building standards for human habitation, it is more likely to not be considered a dwelling.
Are you planing to add electricity and plumbing to your shed? If so, you are a step closer to it qualifying as a dwelling. Of course, regular old sheds and garages can have electricity or water access to, so this is not a black-and-white indication. But dwellings typically require access to utilities like electricity, have plumbed water, and need sanitation systems. If the shed lacks these connections or they are not properly installed to meet residential standards, it is less likely to be classified as a dwelling.
This one is probably obvious, but if you are adding a bunch of living amenities to the shed, it can significantly influence its classification. Dwellings typically include features like insulation, heating, cooling, ventilation, sleeping areas, personal care areas, cooking facilities, and sanitary considerations. If the shed lacks these amenities or they are insufficient for comfortable living, it may not be considered a dwelling. Some of these features are easy to move in-and-out, but others are not.
Occupancy and Duration
The length and consistency of occupancy also is a factor in classifications. If a shed is intermittently used as temporary accommodation, such as during a camping trip or as an occasional guest room, it is less likely to be classified as a dwelling. However, if the shed is consistently occupied as a primary residence or for extended periods, it increases the likelihood of being classified as a dwelling.
On that note, be careful of running afoul with your local government by letting someone regularly stay in a shed that is not a proper dwelling. You might have another issue on your hands. It is one thing to have your son and some friends sleep in a shed instead of camping in a tent. It is another to let your brother-in-law live in the shed for two months.
Zoning and Local Regulations
Perhaps the biggest factor to consider is your local laws. They are a little different everywhere!
Zoning laws and local regulations set by cities and municipalities can further impact the classification of a garden shed. These regulations define specific land use categories and stipulate what can be constructed in certain zones. If the shed is located in an area zoned exclusively for residential purposes, it may have a higher chance of being considered a dwelling. Likewise, each city may view an accessory structure differently in terms of its categorization as a dwelling.
When Does a Shed Become an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)
If a shed is equipped with all the basic safety things a home has — safe and up-to-code electricity, plumbing, waste removal, and insulation, along with operating doors and windows — it may qualify as an ADU. These “tiny homes” have become popular over the last 10 years.
In most cases, an ADU has additional regulations too, mainly for the safety of the habitants as well as the aesthetic of the neighborhood.
The setback requirements for any shed or ADU are consistent with other setback rules for the property. If you need to be 5 feet from a lot line with your house or garage, assume the same for a shed.
Many cities are now regulating the size of the ADU, but overall but also in proportion to the house on the lot. One city near me as a rule saying that the ADU must be a minimum of 250 square feet, but no more than 950 square feet. However, the 950 sf figure is reduced in some cases, because the dwelling may not be more than 35% the size of the home on the lot. This rule is so that the ADU or shed stays proportionate to the main residence on the property. You don’t want ADUs that are the same size as the house.
Finally, many municipalities have a rule that you can have no more than one ADU on the property, or perhaps one ADU per acre. This rule is to prevent people from setting up a side business with a village of ADUs in their backyard, which could impact the neighbors, traffic, noise levels, and other factors.