Rhode Island Zoning, Planning And Land Use Law FAQS – Building Permits, Additions, In Law, Variance

1) Do I need a building permit in Rhode Island to construct a small addition to my house or a deck around my above ground swimming pool?

Yes. Almost all construction at your home requires a building permit. Even the placement of a shed in your backyard necessitates a building permit.

2) My house is in a residential zone. Are there any problems that I need to consider in planning an addition or an accessory structure?

Yes. All towns and cities in Rhode Island regulate construction through setback requirements and percent of coverage requirements. You need to determine if your proposed addition will violate any of these dimensional requirements. If it does, you will need to seek a dimensional variance from the Zoning Board of the town or city in which your land is located.

3) I have a single-family house located in a single-family zoning district in Rhode Island. My mother-in-law wants to move in with me. Can I add a second kitchen to my house so that she will have the ability to be independent?

Most cities and towns consider that the addition of a second kitchen creates a two-family house which is not permitted in a single-family district. Some cities and towns allow in-law apartments but have very specific rules as to their size and location. It is important that you and your attorney examine the zoning ordinances of your city or town as to whether or not you can create an in-law apartment.

4) If I want to build a two-family in a single-family zone or build an office in a residential zone, what do I do?

Each city and town has a procedure for obtaining a use variance from the zoning Board of Review. An application has to be filed with the Zoning Officer for this variance. Frequently the planning staff will advise the Zoning Board as to whether the proposed construction conforms to the Comprehensive Plan of the city or town and as to whether in their opinion it will create a nuisance in the neighborhood. Use variances can be difficult to obtain and often it is wise to have expert testimony from a realtor or land use planner at the hearing.

5) I have extra land that I am not using on the side of my house. Can I sell this land to a builder?

Almost all cities and towns require that you obtain a subdivision of your land to divide it into two parcels. One will be for your existing house and the other will be for a buildable lot. In order to obtain a subdivision, you must apply to the Planning Board of your city or town. To do this, you will need to have a survey done of your property. It is wise to have an attorney to represent you as there are a number of issues that surface in any attempted lot split.