RN-1 Zoning and multifamily conversion

7 Replies

I am under contract for a home in North Knoxville that is currently set up as a duplex (2b/1ba upstairs; 2bd/2ba downstairs). Given that I am zoned for RN-1, am I legally allowed to use this house as a duplex? Furthermore, there is a large 2 story garage on the property. Would I be allowed to convert that into units if I so chose. I have been looking at zoning regulations but I am having a hard time figuring out if I am allowed to convert existing structures into discrete units. The house has so much more upside if I could have a total of 4 units. Does anyone have any insight into this situation?

@Warren Bryant - A duplex is a permitted use but not not use by right. It will need MPC approval and depending on the neighborhood there could be significant opposition. For example, the construction of a duplex on a vacant lot in Norwood was denied at the last meeting. If your property currently has two addresses and separate meters, it will support your request - especially if it shows as two address in a City Directory from the 1990s. 

If you can give me more details, I can give you more guidance.

Happy Investing

@Warren Bryant

I second what @Victor Jernigan commented. You are well within in your rights to purchase the property, and technically you could rent it if you wished to take that risk. However, without a special use exception (permit or variance) from the planning Knoxville group then they would be well within their rights and power to shut you down.

I know there are plenty of people out there taking that risk, but you are at risk! The garage can easily be converted, but again would require a building permit for home remodel purposes.

I’m a residential contractor in the area and I work primarily with investors. I’m currently working on a couple of of custom home projects, flips, and as of late...flipping/converting for AirBnB.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need more information.

@Victor Jernigan The property has a single address, but the garage has a seperate meter and it appears that plumbing had been run to it in the past. The garage is kind of an interesting structure. It's built on a hill so the "first" floor is the actual garage. It's about 900 sq feet. You can then go downstairs via a staircase to a basement. This basement is also accessible to the outside and has it's own deck. The basement is also around 900 square feet and is being used as a game room. There is plumbing down there so I think there was previously a sink or bathroom.

If I did wanna turn this into an apartment most of the construction would be inside the existing structure. Exceptions would include running any plumbing/utilities, creating basement egress windows, and building an outside staircase. I probably would have to extend the driveway as well.

My ultimate plan would to build one apt on each floor and seperately meter them. I'm worried about how hard it would be to convince the MPC of their plan. I would love to find someone else who has successfully done this. I'm also wondering if it would be easier to do since the structure is already there and has some existing utilities.

@Warren Bryant I notice you are an ICU Nurse - my daughter is a CRNA and has bee working in her ICU due to Covid - you have a very difficult job. Why add more stress or make your life more complicated by working to resolve the current property owner's issues on a this project? The owner is selling a non-approved duplex - it is illegal under the current zoning laws. The agent that has it listed should have adjusted the price to compensate for the cost and risk needed to bring the property into compliance - but probably did not. There are more deals to do.  

Additionally the owner is at risk because he may be required to convert the duplex back to a single family, if you fail at the rezoning. If you represent yourself, the cost of you going to Planning is about $750 and 120 days. Add another $2,000 -$3,000 in expense, if you need an attorney and and another $1,000-$2,000, if you need any type of exhibit drawing for Planning. Then if the request is denied you will have lost all the money and time as well as the owner will no longer have two rental units. In which case, he may decide to sue his real estate agent, you and your agent.

Warren, I converted a ranch house with a detached garage apartment into a legal multi a few years ago. Fortunately, that was back when we had reasonable leadership downtown that didn't want to make TN like California and I had the zoning for it. I have also routinely submitted documents downtown. I've never hired an attorney and use local surveyors/draftsman combined with fiverr. Not counting the application fees I'd say it costs me maybe $300 for the documentation which is a site plan and elevations, you may need an interior floorplan as well. These aren't architectural drawings, that would be overkill. So the cost, from my experience, can be reasonable if you are willing to do a little legwork.

You want to see if you have precedent, this goes a long way and it is hard for them to deny it if there is legal, converted duplex sitting across the street for example. I got denied on a couple new construction duplexes because they did not want to establish the precedent of allowing it in the area/situation. We settled on a house with a detached garage and apartment above it (I may have made it clear that mobile homes were permitted under the zoning and my next option if they denied the garage apartments too).

Nick is right. A lot of people own "illegal" multi's. Right now they are grandfathered in from my experience. They can shut them down sure, but I've not heard of a situation egregious enough where they have though I am sure it has happened. Anyone's advice is going to be centered you understanding and protecting yourself from the liabilities associated with owning such a property. Some people make them work for years without issue and others wouldn't touch them with a 10' pole so only you can determine what you are comfortable with.