Zoning changes in Providence

8 Replies

Hello all,

I'm in research mode on Providence and hoping to enter action mode in Q1/Q2 2018. Is anyone trying to add value by expanding number of units. Example take a larger two family and create a third unit. What are the zoning rules like? 

I understand from the Forums that each town in RI has its particular rules, so for the moment just seeking to learn how it works in Providence. 

Many thanks! 

Ps I hope to make the RIREIG meet up later in Dec. 

Pps I've been to Providence dozens of times so have a medium knowledge base but will supplement with driving and walking

Very tough to just ‘create’ a third unit. Going to run into a lot of zoning issues. Going to have to hard wire smoke detectors since that’s a requirement for all 3 families in RI, deal with National Grid on getting gas meters in there, run electrical for a new panel, It’s just going be a headache.

What you should look to do is find a legal 2 unit that has a townhouse (VERY common in Providence). The townhouse will share utilities with most likely the second unit. So, you’ll have to just include utilities for those two units. This acts like a 3 unit, and costs less than a legal 3 Family property.

@Sam Albert, many thanks for the helpful info. The townhouse idea is intriguing. Can I drop you a line when I'm next in RI?

Cheaper to buy the unit count you want. A legal zoning change can be a 1 year battle and you also have to have enough parking. Even if you have a proper plan and sufficient parking if neighbors show up the the variance hearing you may never get it passed.

Townhouse as someone mentions works expanding the 2nd floor Into the attic is as simple as a building permit

Thanks @Thomas Hickey, helpful info. I'll look into the attic idea. I don't mind being patient and waiting for approvals but the unpredictability of neighbors does scare me. 

@Jennifer Stillman Two of the major issues you'll deal with will be, is your lot big enough for the new parking requirements (with the 3rd unit), and that you'll need to confirm to 3-family fire coding rules which will mean hard-wiring the detectors so they become interconnected, which can be some expensive electrical work.

You can view the zoning ordinances for Providence online but like most zoning rules, they're a little terse and hard to navigate, at least until you get used to them.

I would not plan to try to find a 2-family you can convert to a 3-family because it's an uphill battle. What you could do is look for 2 families you think might have that potential (bigger lots are a definite help!) and then buy it as a 2-family you're happy with as-is (i.e., a good 2-family), and then try to convert to a 3F as "gravy" (something extra you don't expect, but cool if you're able to get it).

Figuring this stuff out online is difficult, same thing over the phone. However, every time I've gone down to the Providence building department in person (444 Westminster St) and asked about a specific property, they've been extremely helpful, in several cases giving me copies of the requirements for what I'm asking about on the spot.

If you are serious about this angle (turning a 2F into a 3F) then I'd recommend that the next time you're in Providence you go there and ask, and I think they'll give you a copy of the requirements right then. But it definitely also helps if you're asking about a specific property.

(I feel like I've gotten a copy of something addressing that exact question, turning a 2F into a 3F, sometime in the past, but God help me if I needed to find it right now :)

Thanks @Anthony Thompson! Quite logical what you say. For me it was more the gravy approach.

I was searching around for any posts on zoning in RI but only found stuff in other markets, but I'll keep looking. I know this is as local a topic as can be 

Sure thing, I’ll send you a colleague request.

My speculation is that the ROI would be greater by looking for an extra room in a unit. Moving a wall, adding a closet, and likely not having to deal with electrical and plumbing would be MUCH cheaper than adding an entire unit. The extra $100+ / mo would pay off in no time. I see more value in that personally :) I have a 1 bed 1 bath that I'm renovating right now. And was pretty close too making it a 2/1. But with a 500 sq/ft apartment, bedrooms would've been just too small, I think I would have a hard time renting. So it'll remain as is. But for future in my case, I'll definitely keep my eyes peeled more for hidden rooms.

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