All Under One Roof - Special-permit mother-daughter apartments can be a happy design for living among close-knit families
When Anthony and Rebecca Trocchia moved into a
single-family home in Massapequa Park seven years ago, they didn't want to lose
that "one big happy family" feeling they'd had in the old neighborhood.
In Brooklyn, the Trocchias and their children, George, now 19, and Joseph,
12, had lived upstairs in a two-family house owned by Christina and Joseph
Tavella, Rebecca's parents; the Tavellas lived downstairs.
But since moving to Long Island, it's the Tavellas who are living upstairs
- in a one-bedroom mother-daughter apartment - while the Trocchias occupy the
downstairs of the dormered split- level.
The two-family arrangement, legal but regulated by the village of
Massapequa Park, has preserved the grandchildren's visits, as well as the
kitchen table chats and family meals they'd grown accustomed to across the city
"My wife is so attached to her mother," Anthony Trocchia, 38, said as he
sat at his mother-in-law's kitchen table one recent afternoon.
Christina Tavella, who had just prepared dinner in celebration of her 58th
birthday, relishes having her children and grandchildren a few steps away: "I
wouldn't know what to do without my kids here."
Across the metropolitan area, families like the Trocchias and Tavellas are
finding that kin who stay together in a so-called mother-daughter apartment
arrangement not only play together but also find a safe harbor from the
region's competitive housing market - even if only a temporary one. Such
apartments generally are not two-family houses, which meet local zoning
requirements, with one family living in one unit and renting out the other unit
to an unrelated family. Rather, these are apartments carved out of
single-family homes - sometimes with extra kitchens and bathrooms that must be
rented to blood relations - and require special-exception permits from
municipalities and fees up to $250.
Mother-daughter apartments don't necessarily add to the monetary value of a
home and permits for them can't be conveyed once the houses are sold. Still,
experts agree they are a valuable part of the housing scene.
Jim Morgo, president of Long Island Housing Partnership, a nonprofit
affordable housing group in Hauppauge, called mother-daughter apartments "a
viable option" for residents because they provide a home-ownership opportunity
and an affordable rental opportunity. "What they really are," Morgo said, "is a
form of a two-family home with the one unit being larger than the other."
In more traditional neighborhoods, the apartments generally are built into
single-family homes and occupied by younger couples or singles or elderly or
disabled parents, experts say.
Lesa Dresher, executive director of the New York metropolitan area chapter
of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry in Melville, said high
housing prices in the New York area have driven many young married couples to
cohabitate in an apartment in their in-laws' home.
"Instead of moving, the older people are expanding on their houses and
[making room for] the younger couple," Dresher said.
Older couples also can take advantage of the mother-daughter scenario.
Dresher said she is considering expanding her own Huntington Station home or
buying a bigger house to accommodate her in-laws, who winter in Florida but
want to return regularly to Long Island.
Last year, Southampton Town approved legislation that permits accessory
apartments in detached buildings, such as garages or pool houses, as part of a
"very broad campaign to address the housing crisis," said Donna Giancontieri,
executive assistant to Supervisor Patrick A. Heaney. "There has been a real
dearth of rental properties out here and it's something we've been trying to
address," she said.
In the Town of Islip, residents can apply for a "temporary special
exception" for a mother-daughter apartment in a two-family dwelling, said
Eugene Murphy, acting planning commissioner. The homeowner needs to renew every
two years - paying a fee of about $150 - and attend a public hearing at which
neighbors can comment on the application. "People are notified that they have
to renew [the permit]. If they don't renew, the situation is ended," Murphy
Generally, homeowners who want to install a mother-daughter apartment or
legalize an existing one need to apply to the zoning board of appeals or the
village board. They have to follow the housing code and prove that the
tenant-owner relationship involves only family members.
"Frankly, we haven't built enough housing on Long Island to meet the
demands for young people and working families," said Steve Bellone, supervisor
of the Town of Babylon. To help meet what Bellone calls "a critical housing
need," the town allows family and nonfamily members to occupy apartments in
Agnes Vion, clerk to the Town of Smithtown Zoning Board of Appeals, said
requests to her office for mother-daughter applications have increased slightly
in recent years. Applicants need to request a special exception from the
appeals board. To prevent the creation of illegal apartments, a covenant has to
be filed stating that at such time as the use terminates, it will be turned
back to a single-family dwelling.
Massapequa Park allows legal mother-daughter apartments in 145 of the
area's 5,800 homes, said village administrator Peggy Caltabiano. Residents must
apply to the board of trustees for the initial permit and pay a $50 fee. The
application and fee must be resubmitted annually, and the homeowner must
present proof - a driver's license or birth certificate - that the tenant is
related to them by blood or marriage.
Real estate agents acknowledge the value of having two families living
under one roof temporarily, but they also point out pitfalls, such as code
violations and a possible adverse impact on the surrounding homes.
"I'm not opposed to mother-daughters, but I don't think the towns should be
approving jerry-built configurations on roadway systems that weren't designed
for multi-family housing," said Tom Seidl, a broker associated with Coach Real
Estate in East Norwich. "They are fine for housing stock that can support them
and if they are built in accordance with zoning regulations."
Jerry DiMonti, owner of Century 21 People Services Realty in Elmont, said
although some homeowners spend tens of thousands of dollars to expand their
homes for a mother-daughter apartment, they don't add to the resale value of a
"A mother-daughter is really a legal one-family dwelling, not a legal
two-family, so it would be the same price to buy a one-family with comparable
square footage," DiMonti explained. "We do sell mother-daughter potential
properties, but we have to make it clear [that] when the property is
transferred to the new owner, the permit dies. The person that's purchasing the
home has to reapply."
Marcia Kaufman, chief operating officer of Preferred Empire Mortgage Co. in
Melville, said because mother-daughters are not legal rental apartments, their
value cannot be included in the asking price for a home. "If it's a legal
mother-daughter you still cannot use rental income on it when you do a
mortgage," Kaufman said.
Furthermore, when the relative moves out or dies, there's a temptation to
turn the legal apartment into an illegal rental property, which can affect a
neighborhood's quality of life.
"People don't want the house next door to become an illegal boarding
house," Kaufman said.
Many mother-daughter units are built legally by contractors, said Bob
Wieboldt, executive vice president of the Long Island Builders Institute, which
has 650 members in Nassau and Suffolk.
"There are thousands of [mother-daughters] built annually" on Long Island-
probably more than the number of traditional rental apartments, Wieboldt
Ray Accettella, president of Jarro Building Industries in East Meadow, said
he constructs about a dozen legal mother-daughter apartments a year, mainly
for older people who want to move in with their children. "It gives the parents
the independence they are used to, rather than being a burden on the family."
Accettella said some homeowners have been taking out home equity loans,
facilitated by low interest rates - to add the new stairway, bathroom, kitchen,
bedrooms and sitting room that typically make up a mother-daughter apartment.
Accettella's company recently built a mother-daughter apartment in Westbury
for a couple who wanted to accommodate an elderly parent.
Double D Contractors of West Hempstead also does a moderate business in
mother-daughter apartments - about four or five a year, mostly in the western
part of the Town of Hempstead, said owner Doug Dervin. "We did one [apartment]
in Massapequa for an elderly mom coming in from Tennessee," Dervin added. "We
gave her her own little apartment in the back of a cape cod, but we didn't want
to do a dormer because the family didn't want her climbing stairs."
But an intergenerational living arrangement also can thrive, even if the
mother is just as active and healthy as the daughter. In fact, some folks
prefer it that way.
"This is the best move I ever made," a Levittown woman, Cathy, said of her
decision last year to buy a 10-room house on a 60-by-100-foot plot and turn the
keys of the second-floor apartment over to her mother, Carolyn, 61.
A year ago, the two women moved from Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn to the
heart of suburbia. (They requested that their last names not be published
because while the mother-daughter apartment was legally built, they have not
yet paid their permit fee.)
Actually, their move continued something of a family tradition of shared
housing. For years in Sheepshead Bay, Carolyn had shared a two-family house
with her father, and then, after he died three years ago, with Cathy. Carolyn
eventually sold the Sheepshead Bay house and gave part of the proceeds of the
sale to her daughter, who used the funds for a down payment on the house.
These days the two say they are about as much best friends as a mother and
daughter can be. They carpool to jobs at the same Brooklyn insurance firm,
sometimes cook together when they come home and get a mutual kick out of
hanging out on the porch bordering their backyard.
But when day is done, Carolyn retires to her apartment, which has a small
kitchen, bedroom and sitting room, and Cathy enjoys the privacy of her seven
rooms with enough space for a home office.
"The best thing," Cathy said, "is to have someone you love live close by
but have your own space."
At the Trocchia/Tavella home, "We get along, even though we have our
differences," said Christina Tavella. Her daughter Rebecca's only quibble,
after the seven-year arrangement, is that grandma tends to spoil the
grandchildren just a bit too generously.
Anthony Trocchia, who works as a private garbage carter, regularly climbs
the stairs to savor his mother-in-law's Italian cooking. That doesn't faze his
wife at all.
Said Rebecca with a smile: "There's no use two people cooking."
He may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT'S PERMITTED WHERE
Permits for "parent-child" apartments are issued for three years; they cost
$150 and must be approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Defined as "a one-family home or residence constructed or altered to
include a second kitchen for the sole use of the children or parents of the fee
Applications are filed with the Building Department (fee: $65) examined by
the Board of Architectural Review and approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals
after a public hearing.
Conditional-use permits for mother-daughter residences are approved by the
Board of Zoning and Appeals.
Permits are renewable every two years. Some restrictions apply.
There is no provision for mother-daughter apartments, but in R-5 zoning
areas, mostly in Huntington Station, residents can obtain a certificate of
occupancy for a two-family house.
Townwide, accessory apartment permits are available for owner-occupied
homes; they cost about $250 and they are required to be renewed annually.
The town does not allow parent-child residences. Only residents with a
certificate of occupancy prior to Dec. 31, 1984, are permitted to have
apartments in their homes, and then only under strict regulations.
While two-family houses are permitted in some areas, there are no
provisions for mother- daughter apartments in single- family homes.