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Laneways Around the World: Minnesota



Image from: stpaul.gov


In this segment of our series in exploring various Laneway Suites across the globe, we will be viewing the state of Minnesota as a case study to better understand the differences in comparison to Toronto.


Minnesota is another state in the United States to legally pass the bill for the construction of backyard housing units. Back lane housing, also often referred to as granny flats, infill housing, coach houses, or accessory units, has been adopted as a new way of providing space in single-family areas that have the intention of renting the added space on their own property.


The purpose of backyard units and introducing a mix of housing types, especially in Minnesota, is to address the issue of affordable housing. In November of 2016, the state capital of Minnesota, Saint Paul, published an initial ordinance for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) and was later revised in late 2018. According to Saint Paul’s definition, “An ADU is a second dwelling unit, subordinate to a principal one-family dwelling, within or attached to a one-family dwelling or in a detached accessory building on the same zoning lot.”


The objective of Saint Paul's vision for ADUs was a way to address the housing crisis, and established a series of standards and conditions for construction which included:

  • Lot size must be at least 5,000 square feet in order to construct a detached ADU.

  • Only one accessory unit is allowed on a lot.

  • No more than one family is allowed in both the principal unit and the accessory unit together. A family is a lineally related family plus two, or up to four unrelated persons.

  • The property owner must permanently reside in either the principal unit or the accessory unit.

  • The maximum size of a detached ADU is 800 square feet of floor area and the maximum height is lesser than 25 feet or the height of the principal structure. All other requirements for an accessory structure must be met.

  • If the accessory dwelling unit is located within the principal unit, the principal structure must be at least 1,000 square feet and the accessory unit cannot exceed 1/3 of the total floor area of the structure. If the principal has more than one story, the maximum floor area of an accessory dwelling unit may be equal to that of the first floor, but shall be less than or equal to 50% of the total floor area of the structure.

  • There must be a sidewalk from the street to the primary entrance of the accessory unit.

  • An accessory unit on the upper floors of the principal structure shall have an interior stairway to the primary entrance of the accessory unit. Secondary stairways may be located on the exterior, but not on the front of the building.

  • Provided that the parking requirement is met for the principal one-family dwelling, no additional parking is required.

  • For a detached ADU in an RL-RM2 zoning district, the height shall not exceed twenty-five (25) feet or the height of the principal structure, whichever is less. (Section 63.501.e)

  • All building code requirements for the accessory unit must be met and a building permit must be obtained for the change of use and/or construction work.


In terms of the application process, the government of Saint Paul has created steps for homeowners to apply for the construction of ADUs. The property owner must fill a Declaration of Land Use Restrictive Covenants and Owners' Warranties and submit to the County Recorder. Prior to a building permit being issued to construct the ADU, the property owner must file an original of the referred Declaration, which consists of the date and document number to the zoning administrator. The building permit application must show full consent with all standards for an ADU. After the construction of the dwelling unit has been completed, a building Certificate of Occupancy will be given by the building official. Every year after, the property owner will be required to file an annual affidavit with the zoning administrator verifying continued owner-occupancy of the property as their permanent and principal residence, in addition to an annual review fee of $63 USD. The accessory dwelling unit cannot be sold separately from the main dwelling unit, and may not be recognized as a separate tax parcel.


Minnesota’s state capital, Saint Paul, is a relevant case study of how a new method of housing can allow easier access to living in single-family areas. The ADUs illustrate the high demand for providing more affordable housing and an efficient way of enriching neighbourhoods of all statuses.


If you are interested in Garden/Laneway Suites or have any further questions, please send us an email or book a meeting.


Source: stpaul.gov


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