Des Moines Eases Accessory Housing Requirements

An above garage accessory housing unit in Des Moines

Press Release

Des Moines, Iowa — Tuesday, May 10, 2022 — As part of a strategy to increase affordable housing opportunities, Des Moines City Council has approved changes to zoning code that makes it easier for homeowners to develop accessory household units (AHUs). Also known as “accessory dwelling units (ADU)” or “guest houses,” accessory household units were added to the City of Des Moines’ zoning, planning and design codes during a comprehensive update in 2019. These new changes add up to four times the amount of properties that qualify for AHU development.

Accessory housing provides opportunities to add available housing throughout Des Moines neighborhoods. AHUs also provide homeowners opportunities to downsize and remain in their neighborhood, share living costs with others, or provide private housing accommodations to family members or in-home care workers.

“We know that increasing our affordable housing supply is a priority for meeting the needs of our growing city,” said deputy director of Development Services, Michael Ludwig. “Accessory housing is one step towards adding more missing middle housing to Des Moines in a subtle and accessible way.”

The approved code changes expand the zoning districts that allow AHUs to be developed. 78% of residential land in Des Moines now qualifies for AHU development by right or by a conditional use agreement, up from 21% previously. These areas include:

  • A, DXR, RX1, and RX2 zoning districts
  • N and NX zoning districts that allow two, three or four household units (i.e. N1-2, N2-2, N3-2, N4-2, N5-2, N1-4, N2-4, N3-4, N4-4 and N5-4, NX1, NX2, NX2a and NX3 districts)
  • Any N and NX districts, regardless of number of household units on the lot, if the lot is within ¼ mile of an existing DART transit route
  • N districts that allow one household unit on a single lot subject to a conditional use approval by the Zoning Board of Adjustment

The remaining 22% of residential land in Des Moines that does not qualify for AHUs is made up of areas that allow other forms of multi-family housing.

All property owners interested in renting out their AHU or primary house are required to live on the property in either of the two units. A rental inspection and certificate are required for any AHU that is rented to a person that is not a parent, grandparent, child or grandchild of the property owner.

As with most major development and renovation projects, building an AHU requires permits from the Permit & Development Center before work can begin. Design requirements are enforced to ensure the AHU matches the color and character of the primary house on the lot.

Homeowners interested in developing an accessory can find the resources they need to start planning by visiting, emailing [email protected], or by calling (515) 283-4192.

Al Setka
Chief Communications Officer, City Manager’s Office
(515) 283-4057
[email protected]

About the City of Des Moines
The City of Des Moines: Iowa’s capital city and local government servicing more than 214,000 residents, 52 neighborhoods, over 4,000 acres of parkland and 81 miles of trails. The City of Des Moines stands to be a financially strong city with exceptional city services, fostering an involved community in a customer friendly atmosphere. Visit, Facebook and Twitter for more information.