An accessory dwelling unit (ADU) is an additional dwelling unit created on a lot with a house, attached house, tiny house, duplex, or manufactured home. The second unit is smaller than the main dwelling. You can create an ADU by:
- Converting part of the existing house
- Converting an existing garage or
- Constructing a new building
Evaluating existing space to convert to an ADU
Unfinished areas may not meet current building code requirements for living space. This includes:
- Ceiling height
- Emergency egress windows (emergency exit windows)
- Insulation and Ventilation
These conditions could make it expensive, difficult, or even impossible for you to convert into an ADU. Learn more about how to research your property below.
Step 1: Research your property before you build an ADU
How to check the permit history for a house
Depending on the age of your house, we may have inspection cards or microfilmed plans that show the permit history for your house. It is important to verify the permit records, not rely on the tax information from the county assessor’s office. If an "existing” finished attic or basement was not permitted, it will need to be legalized through the new permit as if the work was not already done.
Some records are available online. Visit our How to Request Public Property Records webpage.
Find out about the zoning standards for an ADU
There are a variety of design and use standards in the zoning code which apply to the creation of an ADU. These include:
- Restrictions on short term rentals and home occupations
- Limits on the size of the ADU
- Design requirements for new detached ADUs over 15 feet tall
For detailed information on the zoning code standards such as visibility and height allowances, click here.
For requirements that apply to detached ADUs, please review the information guide on covered accessory structures.
City utility connections
The ADU and the primary dwelling unit shall have separate and independent water supply and sanitary sewer systems, except as allowed by the Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services.
ADUs must comply with the requirements of the Oregon Residential Specialty Code (ORSC) for one and two-family dwellings as modified by the alternative standards listed in the Accessory Dwelling Unit Code Guide. The ORSC and the alternative standards apply when an ADU is created within an existing detached or attached structure. However, if the building containing the ADU is subject to the Oregon Structural Specialty Code (OSSC), the ADU must comply with the requirements of the OSSC and the ADU Code Guide does not apply.
Who can do the work?
Contractors must have a license to work in Oregon. The Oregon Construction Contractors Board (CCB) issues licenses to contractors. The permit application and their company materials must list the license number. Need help finding a contractor? The CCB website has good tips on how to search for one. Plumbing and Electrical contractors have additional license requirements.
If you are a homeowner doing the work yourself, then you can sign the trade permit applications. You cannot do the electrical work yourself for an ADU. You must hire a licensed electrical contractor to do the electrical work on an ADU. The State of Oregon has some helpful information for homeowners:
ADU SDC waiver program
You may be eligible to apply for an SDC waiver. Learn more about this program.
Fees and System Development Charges
The development of an ADU requires building permit fees, water service fees and System Development Charges (SDCs). In some instances, fees or SDCs can be substantial. Fees and SDC charges are based on the information below.
Building permit fees
Permit fees are based on the type of permit, the work proposed, the valuation of the work, and the staff that needs to review the work. When you create a new dwelling unit, system development charges are usually charged.
System Development Charges
The construction of ADUs or the conversion of existing structures to ADUs is typically subject to System Development Charges (SDCs) that are levied by the Portland Parks and Recreation, Environmental Services, Transportation, and Water Bureaus.
For ADUs where the SDC is not waived, the Bureau of Transportation charges an SDC. Rates are updated annually on July 1.
Environmental Services SDCs
For ADUs where the SDC is not waived, the Bureau of Environmental Services charges an SDC. The amount of the SDC will be based on fees that were paid previously and the addition of an ADU based on the current sewer connection charge. Rates are updated annually on July 1.
In some cases, it may be necessary to increase the size of the sewer or wastewater line or to provide the ADU with a separate connection to the sanitary sewer system. In these cases, additional fees will be required even if SDC charges are waived.
Parks and Recreation SDCs
For ADUs where the SDC is not waived, Portland Parks and Recreation charges an SDC for the creation of any ADU. The fee changes annually on July 1. Please call Parks and Recreation for the current rate.
Water Bureau SDCs
The Water Bureau does not automatically charge an SDC when an ADU is constructed. If the ADU can be added without changing the size of the existing water service, there is no charge. Click here for more information about connecting to city utilities. Upon request, the Water Bureau can verify the existing water service size. If an increase in water service is required, then there is a charge for increasing the service along with the differential cost increase for the larger service. Please contact the Water Bureau for more information.
Step 1b: Still need help? Schedule a 15-minute appointment
This is an optional step. If you still need help, we are here for you if you have questions about the information and materials you need to apply. You can schedule a free 15-minute appointment with any of these reviewers:
- Meet with a City Planner to receive information about planning and Zoning and Tree Code requirements that apply to your property.
- Meet with a Building Code and Engineering Reviewer toget help with building code and engineering requirements.
- Meet with a Permit Technician if you have questions about the permit process or if you need help with application requirements.
- Meet with a Water expert tofind out if your project requires you to increase the size of your existing water meter.
- Meet with a Transportation expert to find out if your project will trigger right-of-way improvements.
Contact Environmental Services if you have questions about sanitary or stormwater sewer lines: 503-823-7761.
If you need help, these are experts we recommend you meet with for this project. Not all review groups are listed. The groups listed above will help get you started.
Step 2: Complete an ADU building permit application and required forms and documents
If you plan to build a new detached ADU, follow the New Single Family Residence guidelines.
If you plan to convert existing space to an ADU, you need to have completed building permit application, a site plan, and architectural plans. For a complete list of submittal requirements for conversions of an existing space see “Submittal Requirements – 1 & 2 Family Residential.” You might also want to read our step-by-step guide for completing a building permit application.
If your project qualifies as a Major Residential Alteration and Addition (MRAA), there are additional requirements including a delay period and notification to neighbors and neighborhood associations. Review the MRAA webpage for more about these requirements.
Step 3: Apply for an ADU permit online
If you plan to build a new detached ADU, please follow the New Single Family Residence guidelines. The steps listed here are for converting an existing space to an ADU.
If you are unable to create electronic plans, please call us and we will work with you.
Step 4: Check plan review status and make corrections to an application
You can check the status of a permit review on Portland Maps permit/case search. Many people might review a single permit. The Permit Review Process webpage has more information about the groups that review permits.
A checksheet is sent to the applicant when a reviewer needs additional information, or a correction must be made to the plans. When you have gathered the additional information or made the corrections, you will need to send us a checksheet response with corrections. Reviewers will be notified that a checksheet response has been received and the review will continue.
Step 5: Get your ADU permit
You will be contacted when your permit is ready and notified of your final fee total. Instructions will be given on how to get your approved permit and pay your fees. Your permit is not issued until all fees are paid. Read more about the pre-issuance process.
Step 6: Start building an ADU and get ready for inspections for your ADU permit
The inspection card lists all the inspections you will likely need during your ADU construction project, and what work needs to be done first.
Once your building permit is issued, erosion control measures and sometimes tree protection measures must be installed, inspected and approved prior to beginning any further ground-disturbing activities. All permits need a final approval inspection to be complete.
Step 7: Schedule an inspection, get inspection results and make corrections
To schedule an inspection, call the automated inspection request line. You will need your IVR or permit number and the three-digit code for the inspection.
Get the results of the inspection on Portland Maps permit/case search the next day. Read more about why work does not get approved and how to schedule a reinspection.
Contact residential inspectors about your ADU permit inspections
If you have questions before or after your inspection, you can talk with an inspector.
Trees: Ground disturbance or construction staging that impacts a root protection zone of an existing tree may trigger tree preservation requirements for trees located on private property and/or in the public right-of-way. The value of a project may also trigger tree planting requirements for private property and/or in the public right-of-way. More information may be found at the Portland Trees website.
Temporary Street Use Permits: To reserve on-street parking, close sidewalks, travel or bike lanes, or to close streets to facilitate construction, contact the Temporary Street Use Permit (TSPU) Office (see “Contact Information” at the end of the ADU Code Guide) for information and requirements or apply for permits online at www.tsup.info.
Addresses: Addresses for sites with one or more ADUs will be assigned as follows:
- A single street address (number) will be assigned to the site, with letters used to designate each separate dwelling unit regardless of the orientation of the front door of the unit.
- The Unit letters (A, B, C, D, etc.) will be assigned to all dwelling units, including those on corner lots.
- The address of the ADU must be permanently affixed on the main entrance of the dwelling unit and be legible from the public way that provides access to the primary unit. When the address posted at the unit entrance is not visible from the public way, a duplicate address must be permanently affixed to a permanent structure at the entrance to the site from the primary public way.
Existing “Accessory Rental Units”: Existing Accessory Rental Units (ARUs), which were created by permit under previous zoning regulations, will be considered ADUs under the new regulations. Because of the change in some standards, these pre-existing ADUs may be nonconforming to one or more Zoning Code standards. For additional information, please contact Planning and Zoning.
Discontinuance of Accessory Dwelling Units or Accessory Rental Units: To discontinue using an existing ADU or ARU as an independent living unit, a building permit is required. The purpose of the permit is to document that the accessory unit no longer exists as a separate legal living unit.
The kitchen sink in the former ADU will need to be capped off or, if the unit was within the house, the owner will need to execute an additional sink covenant with the City. Permanent cooking facilities in the ADU or ARU must be abandoned by removing the appliance (and exhaust hood) and permanently capping the exhaust duct serving the hood. If a gas range is being abandoned, the gas piping branch serving that appliance must be abandoned and permanently capped at the point where it originated at the trunk line. If an electric range is being abandoned, the circuit breaker(s) and receptacle serving the range must be removed, with the electrical wiring cut flush with the side of the service panel or subpanel, so that it cannot be easily reconnected. The wiring at the receptacle must be cut flush with the side of the outlet box and a blank cover plate installed.
“Illegal” Accessory Units: Property owners must obtain a building permit to legalize existing ADUs that were constructed without a building permit. Verification of the compliance of concealed building components that were covered without inspection will be at the discretion of the building inspector.
County Assessment and Taxation: Property taxes are not assessed or collected by the City of Portland. It is recommended that applicants consult their county assessment and taxation office to determine how property taxes may be affected by the addition of an ADU to the property.