Smithfield, RI Weather
A new law sponsored by Rep. Thomas Winfield will make it easier for seniors to maintain their independence by expanding the state’s law permitting “in-law” apartments to cover any family member 62 or older, regardless of whether they have a disability, according to a press release.
The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1 after being signed by the governor in July, will allow owner-occupants of single-family homes to construct or use accessory family dwelling units as a reasonable accommodation for family members who are 62 or older, provided they follow all other applicable laws.
Winfield said he introduced the legislation because previously existing law made it difficult to get zoning approval for in-law apartments for seniors, although that arrangement makes a lot of sense for families. Previously, the law granted approval for in-law apartments only for disabled family members.
“Years ago, it was just expected that families would be able to live together and take care of older relatives as they aged. That’s still what so many families would prefer, and in-law apartments make it possible, while providing older family members a measure of privacy and independence,” Winfield said. “Allowing in-law apartments to accommodate senior family members is a way to help them remain in their communities, living the way they prefer in a way they can afford, and to provide families the peace of mind that comes with knowing that their mom or dad is not alone if they need help. It’s a cost-effective living arrangement for seniors, and our laws should encourage their use by families.”
While better serving the senior population, easing restrictions on in-law apartments also has benefits for their families and the wider community. When senior family members are able to live with younger family members, they are better enabled to make valuable contributions, like providing childcare, helping with cooking and other household chores, and are able to develop closer relationships with their grandchildren and other family members. It may enable them to remain active in retirement longer, volunteering in nonprofits, churches or nonprofit organizations, contributing to their communities. Additionally, at a time when baby boomers are reaching retirement age, it will help meet the increased demand for housing solutions for seniors, and reduce waiting lists for public senior housing for those who need it.
Winfield said there are many other zoning laws and restrictions in place that will ensure in-law apartments are created safely and in ways that do not change the character of quiet residential neighborhoods. The law also includes a provision that legally reverts homes with in-law apartments back to regular single-family dwellings when the senior family member no longer lives there.
“All in all, there are a great many benefits to allowing in-law apartments for use by elder generations of families. This is a long-overdue change that I’m sure will improve the lives of not only seniors, but also the younger family members with whom they will be able to live as a result of this law,” said Winfield.