Can I Legally Live in a Garage?

A garage is a wonderful addition to any home. Even for people who don't drive or have cars, a garage can provide useful space for storage, creative pursuits, or even a home gym. In dense, urban environments, garages are often converted into separate apartment units, commonly referred to as "in-law" units. However, the many uses for garages can be limited by state and local laws, as well as home owners' association bylaws.

Recently, a family in a Michigan neighborhood sparked some local controversy after turning their garage into an indoor/outdoor living room. In some cities, it may be illegal or a violation of building codes to use or to rent out a garage space as a living space if it does not meet code. In these situations, a renter can be evicted if they are living in an illegal in-law unit, even in places with very strong protections for renters, like San Francisco.

Renting a Converted Garage

If you rent or live in a garage that has been converted into an apartment, you may want to do a bit of research into what your state and local laws say about doing so. In many cities, just because a garage has been converted, it does not necessarily mean that the unit is illegal to live in or rent. Frequently, all that is required is obtaining the proper permitting and licensing to make the conversion. In fact, there are countless in-law units that meet the building codes and are completely legal to live in and rent.

However, if your unit does not meet code, or meet state law standards for habitability, you may have a problem (and your landlord might have an even bigger one). But be wary about reporting violations to the authorities, as you may be forced to move out immediately if the unit is deemed illegal and cannot be brought up to code.

Sleeping With Your Car

If you want to live in an unfinished garage space, or a commercial space, there may be some legal hurdles depending on where you're located. Generally, local and/or state laws prohibit commercial spaces, or unfinished spaces like garages, from being used as living spaces. These laws are usually enforced through fines. If you are renting the space, a landlord may evict you for using non-living space for sleeping and living in, because they may be subject to a fine if they are aware of your non-permitted use.

However, many of these laws are focused more on protecting renters from habitability problems and avoiding public or private nuisances. This means that if you want to live in your own unfinished garage, and it is part of your home, there may be very little that can be done to stop you, unless you're creating a nuisance.

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