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mcarvell

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Posts: 6
Reply with quote  #1 
Hello fellow landlords,

This is my first post and I was looking for some help with an interesting dilemma. I just recently bought a two family house on the South Shore in Mass and have owned it for a month. The previous owner had attempted to turn a garage into an additional unit. He was kind of sleazy according to the neighbors and was telling them he was going to do different things with it. It was going to be a man cave, work out place among various other things. At the moment the "garage" (there's no garage door) is studded up and is set all set to be an additional unit it just needs to be finished inside (walls and floors). 

Side note on this the guy had a Vietnamese wife and she still had a lot of family over there and he sponsored many of her family to come over here. The neighbors were very fearful that he was going to turn it into an illegal apartment. 

The reason I bought this place was the hope that I can turn it into an additional unit. When I told the neighbors my plan they didn't say out right no but showed some hesitance. They told me they would have to sign off on something if I wanted to go through with it. 

I made my way to the town hall and much to my surprise I do not have to get there approval. A letter gets set out to them and they can either let it go or oppose it and go to the town and complain. However, there was another issue. I talked to one person from the building department and they told me my zone is  R- 30. This means that I need to go in front of the zoning committee (board of 5 people) to let them hear my case as to why they should approve the unit for residency. It's like a month process too. They have to take an ad in the paper for two weeks and letters have to be sent to the people beside and in front. In total is like 500 plus for all the paper work. I did ask how successful it was and they said its case by case but it's not a slam dunk.  My reason for doing it is pretty obvious (more money) but that won't fly in front of the committee. 

I am not afraid of the neighbors as I think I can subdue their fears that I am a reputable person, unlike the previous owner. My biggest concern is the board. The person I talked to mentioned something about variance but was not sure what this meant. I guess my question is how can I present this to the board in the best manner to have this thing approved? Should I say something like growing cost in rent would keep my down to be more affordable? I just not sure what else I could say to them. Any person who has had experience with this or has any ideas would be greatly appreciated it. Thank you for reading and apologize for the length. 
LLinVA

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Posts: 402
Reply with quote  #2 
I believe a variance essentially means it's not allowed, but you can possibly get an exception. For example, if I'm not allowed to build anything within 10' of the property line, but show that my driveway is already within that and I want to extend it or add a carport, and maybe if the neighbor on that side says okay, I might get an exception. 

I don't think you can convince them it is anything beyond money. There is no 'higher value' you can claim to be adding. I think your best angle is to talk to the neighbors and see what their actual concerns are for YOU doing it. When you pitch it to the board, just focus on the fact that you will be very selective, you will keep the place nice, add some privacy hedges, etc. This way they can see you aren't just trying to get rent out of something that is barely/maybe/not really an apartment. 

Does this place have a kitchen, full bathroom, water heater, HVAC, etc.?
mcarvell

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Posts: 6
Reply with quote  #3 
Thanks for the reply. It's not allowed but I can appeal the action which brings me to going in front of the board. Another long story is he built the thing on the neighbor's property but ended up buying the land so it does go at least 10' from the unit. 

It's a nice building. I can defiantly make it so a two bedroom. It has two floors. Its an odd garage as it is longer rather than wider. The neighbor told me what he would do is he would turn it back to a garage (he is trying to steer me away from making it into a new unit). It could only probably fit one car in front maybe another behind it. That to me has no use I would rather have a unit making me money. 

At the moment there is nothing in the actual unit itself. The rooms are divided by studs and there is a plywood floor. Those things would need to be installed. The problem is I do not want to do those things if it is not going to get approved.
LLinVA

Registered:
Posts: 402
Reply with quote  #4 
It sounds like you should look up the actual laws so you can see what and why you are not allowed to do this. Then, see if you can get the variance (which may depend a lot on your neighbors being okay with it). 

I think this was quite a stretch to buy this house specifically for the garage apartment considering you need a variance to do it.

You might also want to consult a contractor to see what the cost would be to get this thing habitable. If it doesn't have plumbing, electrical, HVAC, etc. yet, you may want to cut your losses and give up on the garage apartment or find a new house. You will almost certainly spend more trying to make this happen than you would on closing costs on a new place. 
mcarvell

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Posts: 6
Reply with quote  #5 
It was a plan that I had. It does have electrical and plumbing. I did have a contractor come out and take a look at the unit. He never gave an estimate and I never asked him. I would only go into it more if it was approved by the zoning committee. My father knows some town officials so I going to reach out to see if they have any advice or might be able to help me out. 

I did buy the place and enjoy the location. Plus it came with good tenants who want to stay and are paying rent. So even if it doesn't get passed I would be ok. I would have to check as to why it's not allowed. In fact looking at the document it doesn't look like it is allowed in most zones anyways in the town. 
OHlandlord

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Posts: 3,776
Reply with quote  #6 
Another thing to consider is how much land there is. Many areas require a specific amount of land (area) per residence. You will need to convince the board that your new unit won't be "crammed in" and that there is sufficient parking there so as not to cause a problem with the neighbors. You may need to install parking spaces on the property so as to leave streets free.

Also, does it have separate meters (water and electric)? If water is not separated, it will cost you several thousand dollars to run another water line and meter. The garage utilities cannot run off the house's unless you are paying for all the utilities.

Show the board that it's current use, a garage, is not practical since it is only wide enough for one car, but is too long). Show that it won't change the current tenants parking and won't affect the neighbors. Make sure they know that all the work was already done before you purchased, and that it will all be inspected and be to code. Getting a variance is not impossible. But you will need the neighbors on your side so they don't oppose it at the hearing. Good luck.
mcarvell

Registered:
Posts: 6
Reply with quote  #7 
Fortunately, there is plenty of parking for at least all three units to have a least 2 cars. 

At the moment there are no electric or gas meters there so yes that would have to be installed. At the moment the electric is running off of my unit. So I would have to have that changed so that it has its own box. 

One thing I think would be helpful is getting like a designer to come and look at the place to draw up plans so that I can show the committee what the place would potentially look like. I ask a contractor if he knew anyone who does this and he mentioned I would need an architect? He said that they are pretty expensive and they are booked like 6 months in advance. Is this true or is there some other way I can go about getting a plan drawn up so I can show it to the committee without it taking 6 months and an extra expense? 
mcarvell

Registered:
Posts: 6
Reply with quote  #8 
Bump
LLinVA

Registered:
Posts: 402
Reply with quote  #9 
If the structure is already built, I would be surprised if you needed an actual architect. I also don't think a nice looking design will help much, I really think it will fall on the neighbors and how 'naturally' this space could function as a residence as opposed to it simply being someone trying to cram in more tenants. It may also depend on what the last guy got already. If he got permits approval for it to be residential, maybe along the lines of a mother-in-law suite, I think you have a better chance. 
mcarvell

Registered:
Posts: 6
Reply with quote  #10 
The structure is already built in fact its studded up in the inside to be made into the unit. Thes previous owner would not have taken any paperwork. He was pretty shady and one of the neighbors thought he was setting up an illegal apartment. Its a nice size could defiantly make it one bedroom if not two. I wanted to have plans to show that I am prepared and I know what I am doing.  There's plenty of parking for at least 2 cars per unit if not one or two more. It's not that close either to the house so they would have privacy. I filling out the paperwork with now to have it considered by the town and then would go in front of the committee. 
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