Accessory Dwelling Units

HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University worked with Roger Williams University students to bring Rhode Islanders information on accessory dwelling units.

Rhode Island is known for having the third oldest housing stock in the country, with a majority of housing types being detached single family homes. Older homes often have poor accessibility features making it difficult for vulnerable populations, such as seniors and people with disabilities, to utilize these older structures. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) can help alleviate the need for building new properties by allowing families to make the necessary adjustments to the living spaces within their own homes. ADUs provide an effective way to utilize the existing housing stock available to meet the needs of Rhode Island’s growing senior population, who would otherwise likely have to move to a more affordable community. ADUs provide the opportunity for family members to live alongside their family, rather than being burdened with the rising cost of home and maintenance prices.

In 2022, the law regarding the creation of ADUs was amended. In 2017, the law was amended to make it easier for senior citizens to live with their families while preserving their independence. An owner of an owner-occupied single family home will have the right to build an accessory dwelling unit, also called an “in law apartment,” for a family member who is 62 years or older without having to obtain a special use permit from the town or city in which the property is located.

Creating the additional living space within a single family home allows the senior or person living with a disability to be close to family while still maintaining their independence. ADUs can typically be added to a single family home in three ways, depending on the home and structure of the property:

  • Interior ADUs are converted spaces within the home, such as an existing living space or attached garage;
  • Attached ADUs are added onto the existing home; or
  • Detached ADUs, which are structurally separate from the primary home. These could include conversion of a new built structure or a detached garage.

Is an ADU Right for you?

An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU), as outlined above, is located on the property of your existing home. Adding an ADU to your property in any of the various ways outlined above can hold many advantages, but also many disadvantages.


  1. ADU's can be cost effective compared to assisted living
  2. They allow for close proximity to family
  3. They allow for equal independence between family


  1. They can take away space that is otherwise used
  2. They may not be readily affordable

ADU in Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, Accessory Dwelling Units are now available by right. They are allowed for anyone who has a family member or relative in which an ADU would be suitable for. The only other requirement, for some towns, is that any addition, attached or detached, match the style of the surrounding neighborhood. For more information on the legality of Accessory Dwelling Units, click here.

This content is a product of a Community Partnerships Center (CPC) project. Students gathered the information, and curated all of the images and architectural drawings used throughout the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) pages.

Disclaimer: The reader shall understand the following in regards to this project report:

  • The Project is being undertaken in the public interest.
  • The deliverables generated hereunder are intended to provide conceptual information only to assist design and planning and such are not intended, nor should they be used, for construction or other project implementation. Furthermore, professional and/or other services may be needed to ultimately implement the desired goals of the public in ownership of the project served.
  • The parties understand, agree and acknowledge that the deliverables being provided hereunder are being performed by students who are not licensed and/or otherwise certified as professionals. Neither RWU nor the CPC makes any warranties or guarantees expressed or implied, regarding the deliverables provided pursuant to this Agreement and the quality thereof, and Sponsor should not rely on the assistance as constituting professional advice. RWU, the CPC, the faculty mentor, and the students involved are not covered by professional liability insurance.

House Types

On the pages that follow, take a closer look at the different house types which include: Five-Bay, Cape, Ranch, Side Hall, Split Level, and Garage Conversion.

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