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Ask Eli: Aging In Place In Arlington

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This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Eli Tucker, Arlington-based Realtor and Rosslyn resident. Please submit your questions to him via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Question: As a senior citizen looking ahead, I don’t want to move into a senior community and would like to stay in Arlington. What options do I have to age-in-place in my own home or another detached home? Is there a way to search specifically for suitable properties?

Answer: This may sound crazy, but Arlington isn’t made up of just Millennials! With 8% of our population between the age of 65 and 84, we have thousands of residents who have called Arlington home for decades and want to continue calling it home. If a senior community doesn’t suit you, there are some great ways to stay home and accommodate a live-in caregiver.

Accessory Dwellings (AD)

In Arlington, an AD is a living space attached to the main home with a separate entrance, kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. It can house up to two people, unrelated to the homeowner(s) in a space not to exceed 750sqft (size of most 1BR apartments) or half the size of the main dwelling.

  • ADs range from basements, additions to the main level, or attic conversions as long as they meet the various requirements for entrances, ceiling heights, size, egress, fire protection, etc.
  • Arlington County sets a limit of 28 new ADs per year, but speaking to the Zoning Office, they only receive a couple applications per year and quickly approve them as long as all requirements and permits are in place, so don’t worry about your application being denied
  • Homeowners can collect rent from somebody living in an AD (doesn’t have to be a caregiver), so often times aging homeowners will use a combination of rent and caregiving services as consideration for a place to live
  • While it’s common for the homeowner to live in the main dwelling, the requirements seem to allow the homeowner to also live in the AD with the tenant in the main home. This could make a lot of sense for a homeowner who prefers to exchange tenancy in the main dwelling for higher levels of care.

If you’re considering converting a portion of your home to an AD or building an addition, it’s strongly recommended to reach out to the county’s Zoning Office early in the process to avoid wasted investment or missed requirements. You’ll need to ensure certain design, parking, and safety requirements to get approved. Once a Zoning Inspector has signed off on the property, the application process generally takes about one month and costs a couple hundred dollars.

Caregiver Suites

In Arlington, a Caregiver Suite is a space inside the home, up to 500 square feet, for up to two people outside of the immediate family, related or unrelated. Unlike an AD, the occupant(s) of a Caregiver Suite must provide care to at least one member of the household (child, elderly, or disabled). The homeowner may still collect rent. The space can be an existing area of the home or a new addition.

Arlington County does not allow both an AD and a Caregiver Suite on the same property.

For some aging homeowners in Arlington County, their existing homes can be converted to accommodate an AD or Caregiver Suite with a total investment substantially lower than the costs of moving. However, if you who have steps leading to or inside the main dwelling, no basement access, or other issues that make a conversion difficult, you may need to look to the marketplace for an AD-ready home. While I’m not aware of a good way to search for homes that have already been AD-approved, there are certain search criteria that will help identify homes that can be converted at a relatively low cost such as rambler/ranchers with a walk-out basement.

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column, please send an email to [email protected]. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at

Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with Real Living At Home, 2420 Wilson Blvd #101 Arlington, VA 22201, (202) 518-8781.

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