Coach House / Detached Garage Uses

5 Replies

I'm looking for input on what is legal for an existing coach house / detached garage within the city limits of Chicago. I've heard many differing viewpoints on how they can be used and Chicago building code seems to be vague on the subject. Specifically: 

1. Can tenants of the main building use the space for laundry and storage? 

2. Can there be running water or a sink or toilet? 

3. Can it be heated in the winter with a furnace? 

    Basically, if nobody is LIVING in the space, can it be used for other, useful purposes that serve the occupants of the main building? 

    Any advice here would be much-appreciated.  

    If you have heard differing viewpoints, the problem is you are not going to the source for your answers. Call the Building Department. Call your Alderman's office. Maybe call a zoning attorney.  

    On BP, you are just going to get more "viewpoints". Coach houses are often grandfathered and often get variances, so each owner's experience might be different.

    @Eric M. I really appreciate your response. I have been calling the Building Department but nobody ever picks up. Any tips for getting through to someone? The alderman has been no help. I have calls into a zoning attorney but haven't heard back. 

    Check the Sun Times or Tribune for their consumer help columnists. Let the columnists know that Buildings Department never answers the phone. They'll put that in print. Guess what? Buildings will answer the phone.

    You can pay for a plane to write it across the sky and the building department will still not pick up the phone. Go to City Hall (9th floor) and ask direct. It's the fastest way to get your answers.

    This is less of a building code question and actually a zoning ordinance issue.

    I'm looking for input on what is legal for an existing coach house / detached garage within the city limits of Chicago.
    The zoning ordinance makes a distinction between a coach house and detached garage so be aware of the difference. Currently the zoning ordinance does not allow new coach houses to be built. Only existing coach houses that have been in continuous use can be used as such. There is a draft zoning ordinance change to allow them again and I believe that mayor lightfoot has indicated support for it.

    1. Can tenants of the main building use the space for laundry and storage?

    I can’t say for certain but in my experience the zoning department is wary of something like this because bringing water service to garages starts to indicate use other than a garage. And then it potentially becomes something that can be used as a dwelling unit especially if it’s modified without a permit later on which would be much easier to do now that the service is there. 

    2. Can there be running water or a sink or toilet? 

    See point above and almost certainly no to the toilet.

    3. Can it be heated in the winter with a furnace?

    Again this starts to indicate the garage being used as something other than parking a car so you would have to convince zoning it is allowed per your zoning use. 

    My advice is to contact the zoning department. The building code would not prohibit coach houses because it is not a life-safety issue but rather a use issue. Building department is the wrong department. Your alderman would have no say over the building code or zoning code. The only benefit in contacting your alderman is to push support to update the zoning ordinance. 

    My advice is to try to contact the zoning department rather than building  department although idk how much individual help you will get. As an architect and expediter I’ve found that the building department is much easier to get phone and in person conversations with than the zoning dept. Zoning dept only wants to communicate through email and want you to pay to talk in person unless you are a lobbyist. 

    If you are gonna try to contact someone with specific questions I’d try to contact Patrick Murphy who is the zoning administrator. https://www.chicago.gov/city/e...
    Outside that, your probably gonna need a zoning attorney.

    Forgive any typos as I’m typing this on my phone.