An accessory dwelling (AD) is a complete independent dwelling unit, with kitchen and bath, on a lot that has a main dwelling. The AD must fall under the same ownership as this main dwelling. ADs are designed, arranged, used, or intended for occupancy by not more than three (3) persons for living purposes. ADs must meet the standards of §12.9.2 of the Zoning Ordinance.
Considered an accessory (or subordinate) use, ADs promote a greater diversity of housing and household types in single-family neighborhoods, while maintaining neighborhood character and underlying zoning. In Arlington, ADs serve as an important component of the Affordable Housing Master Plan and can take multiple forms:
- Within a detached accessory building (ex: detached garage)
- New detached accessory buildings are subject to certain conditions.
- Within or attached to the main dwelling (ex: a basement apartment or an addition)
An application for an AD Permit must comply with the use standards of §12.9.2 of the Zoning Ordinance, which establishes the requirements for the creation, approval, and use of all ADs. An application for an AD Permit must also comply with the coverage, density, and dimensional requirements noted in §3.2 and §5 of the Zoning Ordinance.
Determination of Eligibility of Property / Code Consultation
Before applying for an AD Permit, applicants should determine if their property and the proposed AD meet the minimum eligibility requirements of the Zoning Ordinance. We recommend that you contact the Zoning Division (email@example.com or 703-228-3883) to set up a pre-submission meeting to discuss the eligibility requirements. The pre-submission meetings will also provide an overview of the associated requirements of the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (VUSBC) that are overseen by the Inspection Services Division (ISD), as well as environmental considerations and best practices overseen by the Planning Division (Urban Design), the Department of Environmental Services (DES), and the Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR).
- The lot is located in a district zoned R-20, R-10, R-8, R-6, R-5, R-10T, R-15-30T, or R-2-7. If uncertain, use the Real Estate Assessments database to query an address and determine its dwelling type and/or zoning district.
- The lot has been or will be improved with a one-family detached dwelling.
- There cannot already be an AD or a family/caregiver suite on the lot.
- The applicant must be the owner of the property where the AD is proposed to be located.
- In addition to the applicant owning the property where the AD will be located, the property owner/applicant must use either the main dwelling or the AD as their primary residence.
- If the property owner does not use either the main dwelling or the AD as their primary residence, the entire property cannot be occupied by more than one (1) family.
- For ADs located in a detached accessory building constructed after May 18, 2019, the following design requirements apply:
- No exterior stairs to an entrance above the first floor can be located on the side of the lot fronting a street.
- The nearest wall of any accessory building containing an AD cannot be located any closer than 25 ft. to a street (or officially designated street right-of-way line). The nearest wall of any accessory building containing an AD cannot be located any closer than 8 ft. to any wall of the main dwelling.
- The height of any accessory building containing an AD is restricted to the lesser of 1-1/2 stories or 25 ft.
- The footprint of any accessory building containing an AD is restricted to 560 sq. ft. (in the R-5 and R-6 districts) and 650 sq. ft. (in the R-20, R-10, R-8, R-10T, R15-30T, and R2-7 districts).
- On interior lots, any accessory building containing an AD must maintain rear and side yard setbacks of at least 5 ft. (to the wall).
- On corner lots, any accessory building containing an AD must maintain a rear yard setback of at least 10 ft. (to the eave) and a side yard setback of at least 5 ft. (to the wall).
- For ADs located in a detached accessory building constructed before May 18, 2019, there are no specific restrictions on the height, footprint, or setbacks of the existing accessory building. In addition, there are no specific restrictions on the location of stairs to an entrance located above the first floor. Any alterations must be confined to the interior only, in accordance with §16 of the Zoning Ordinance.
- For ADs located within the main dwelling that have an entrance above the first floor, no exterior stairs to that entrance can be located on the side of the lot fronting a street.
- NOTE: An AD may be created in a nonconforming one-family detached dwelling or a nonconforming detached accessory building, so long as any required alterations are completed in accordance with the requirements of §12.9.2 and §16 of the Zoning Ordinance.
- In addition, all projects must meet the design requirements of the Building Code. An overview of these requirements can be provided during a pre-submission meeting.
- The maximum size of an AD varies depending on its location and the size of the existing main dwelling.
- For ADs located wholly within a basement, there is no specific size limit. Only the perimeter walls of the basement restrict the size of the AD.
- In all other cases where the existing main dwelling is at least 1,000 sq. ft. and any portion of the AD is located above the basement, the AD cannot exceed 35% of the combined floor area of the main dwelling and the AD, up to a maximum of 750 sq. ft.
- In all other cases where the existing main dwelling is less than 1,000 sq. ft. and any portion of the AD is located above the basement, the AD cannot exceed 45% of the combined floor area of the main dwelling and the AD, up to a maximum of 500 sq. ft.
- When calculating the size of either the main dwelling and/or the AD, please be aware that in accordance with the definition of gross floor area (GFA) in §3.1.1 of the Zoning Ordinance, all horizontal surfaces over the several floors of a building are generally considered, inclusive of attic and basement space.
- The number and type of parking spaces required for an AD is established in §14.3 of the Zoning Ordinance.
- ADs are permitted on lots with one (1) off-street parking space, subject to the maintenance of one (1) off-street parking space, and on lots with two (2) or more off-street parking spaces, subject to the maintenance of at least two (2) off-street parking spaces.
- ADs may be permitted on lots with no off-street parking spaces only if one (1) off-street parking space is created and maintained on the property OR if a parking study performed by the Department of Environmental Services (DES) finds that the block is less than 65% parked.
- If the block is at least 65% parked, then at least one (1) off-street parking space must be created and maintained.
- For more information on the DES Residential Parking Program, including how long a parking survey may take and any associated fees, please contact the Zoning Division (firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-228-3883).
You must complete an Accessory Dwelling Permit application in Permit Arlington. Click “Create” and select “Zoning Application.”
An applicant for an AD Permit must also apply for a Residential Building Permit. All application information will be available to the public for review.
- Review Permit Arlington online submission guidelines, which include document sizing and layout, recommended file naming conventions, and file type requirements.
- See Accessory Dwelling Tips for common Building Code implications.
- Submit the filing fee with the application.
- Submit the following materials (a-e) with the application:
- Acknowledgement and Agreement to Comply with the Conditions of an Accessory Dwelling (In Permit Arlington, designate as “Other Supporting Document.”)
- Declaration of Covenants (to be submitted prior to the issuance of a Residential Building Permit) (In Permit Arlington, designate as “Other Supporting Document.”) NOTE: Following approval of the AD Permit application by the Zoning Administrator, applicants must have the original Declaration of Covenants (signed by the Zoning Administrator) recorded with the Land Records Division of the Circuit Court of Arlington/Falls Church (1425 N. Courthouse Rd., Suite 6200, Arlington, VA 22201). A copy of the receipt of recordation must be submitted to the Zoning Administrator before the Inspection Services Division (ISD) will issue a Building Permit.
- Affidavit of Compliance (must be submitted to the Zoning Administrator before the Zoning Division can issue a Certificate of Occupancy; can be submitted upfront or later in the application process, when prompted by the Zoning Plan Reviewer) (In Permit Arlington, designate as “Other Supporting Document.”)
- A floor plan of the entire existing main dwelling and proposed accessory dwelling, as well as a site plan drawing that shows all proposed alterations to buildings and to the property, to scale and with dimensions (In Permit Arlington, designate as “Floor Plans – Main Dwelling,” “Floor Plans – Accessory Dwelling,” and “Proposed Plat/Site Plan,” respectively.) Applicants are encouraged to work with a professional architect, designer, and/or surveyor to prepare these materials.
- A certified plat showing all existing improvements on the property, to scale and with dimensions (In Permit Arlington, designate as “Existing Plat.”) Applicants are encouraged to work with a professional architect, designer, and/or surveyor to prepare this plat.
Review Process and Follow-Up Activities
- Allow approximately thirty (30) days to process an AD Permit after the application is accepted as complete by the Zoning Division.
- Zoning Division staff will perform a preliminary review. Next, the Zoning Administrator will review the application.
- If no issues are identified, the Zoning Administrator will sign and issue the AD Permit.
- After the completion of several follow-up activities (a-c), the AD Permit will allow an accessory dwelling to be occupied on the property. The applicant must file for a Residential Building Permit (and associated trade permits) with the Inspection Services Division (ISD). The Chief Building Official (or other appropriate ISD staff) will issue the Building Permit, as well as permits for associated trades (i.e., electrical, mechanical, plumbing, etc.). NOTE: The applicant may apply for a Residential Building Permit at the same time that s/he submits the application for an AD Permit to the Zoning Division. However, the Building Permit cannot be issued until after the Accessory Dwelling Permit is issued. Proof of recording of the Declaration of Covenants is also required prior to issuance of the Building Permit. It is typically recommended that the application for an AD Permit be submitted online via Permit Arlington at least two (2) weeks prior to the submission of the application for the associated Building Permit. Once a Building Permit is issued, construction can proceed. Upon its completion, applicants must file for a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) with the Zoning Division. Staff from ISD and the Zoning Division will conduct inspections of the AD.
- Prior to the issuance of a CO, the applicant must file an Affidavit of Compliance (see “c” above) with the Zoning Administrator. The Affidavit of Compliance is typically emailed to the Zoning Plan Reviewer who is reviewing the AD Permit. It may also be emailed to the Zoning Plan Reviewer who is reviewing the Building Permit if it is not submitted earlier in the review process. NOTE: The Affidavit of Compliance must be re-filed if/when structural alterations are made to the AD and if/when ownership of the main dwelling changes.
- Once the Affidavit of Compliance is accepted, the Chief Building Official and the Zoning Administrator will issue the CO. At this point, the AD is complete and ready for occupancy.
Once all permits for a project have been approved, you must schedule inspections to ensure the safety and proper progress of the project. Staff from the Zoning Division and Inspection Services Division conduct inspections for ADs.
Please note that the Zoning Administrator (or his/her designee) reserves the right to conduct an annual inspection of the AD to ensure ongoing compliance with the use standards established in §12.9.2 of the Zoning Ordinance, as well as the ability of Zoning Enforcement staff to investigate compliance with the AD use standards in response to a complaint.
- View fee schedules and payment methods.
- Pay fees online through your account in the Permit Arlington customer portal.
Fee schedules provide the range of fees charged for each type of application or activity related to land development in Arlington. Fees cover permitting, plan review, enforcement, inspection, service delivery, performance agreements, and conditions. There are separate fee schedules for the Inspection Services Division (ISD), Zoning, and the Department of Environmental Services (DES). Some permits involve fees from more than one schedule.