What Is a Mother-in-Law Suite?

3 Min Read
Published Feb. 17, 2023
An older couple enjoys breakfast in their mother-in-law suite.
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There are many reasons why you may want to add an extra living space, commonly known as a mother-in-law suite, to your home. As the name suggests, it can be a place for older relatives to live or visit, but it also can be used in other ways by you, your guests, or renters.

Here’s a look at what constitutes a mother-in-law suite, and what you can do with one.

What Features Must a Mother-in-Law Suite Have?

A mother-in-law suite is a part of your home or an addition to it that typically serves as a separate living space. It usually includes a sleeping area, a kitchen, a bathroom, and its own entrance.

While a mother-in-law suite can be configured in many different ways, the distinguishing factor is that it is more than an extra bedroom. A house with a mother-in-law suite offers the person or people living there more privacy and independence from the main home.

Types of Mother-in-Law Suites

Common categories of mother-in-law suites include:

  • Detached units, which are separate structures from the main home, such as cabins, casitas, cottages, or tiny houses.
  • Attached units, which are physically attached to the main home, such as added rooms, basement suites, or other converted spaces.
  • Interior suites, which are bedrooms inside the home that have a private bathroom and sometimes a living space as well.
  • Garage conversions, which convert a vehicle storage area into a mother-in-law suite, often with a bathroom space added on.

Other Names for Mother-in-Law Suites

Mother-in-law suites sometimes go by other names. The legal term is accessory dwelling unit, or ADU. But depending on who you’re talking to, and what they use the space for, they also are commonly known by other terms, such as:

  • Backyard cottage.
  • Casita.
  • Garage apartment.
  • Granny flat.
  • In-law unit.
  • Mother-in-law house.
  • Mother-in-law apartment.
  • Second unit.

What Can You Use a Mother-in-Law Suite For?

As the name suggests, a mother-in-law suite often is a private living space for older relatives. Other uses may include:

  • Craft room.
  • Guest room.
  • Gym.
  • Home office.
  • Live-in housekeeper or nanny quarters.
  • Living space for an adult child or other relative.
  • Man cave.
  • Screening room.
  • Short-term or long-term rental.
  • Small-business headquarters.


Here are answers to a couple of frequently asked questions about mother-in-law suites.


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