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Dual Occupancy: The Alternative to Downsizing

Posted 27 May 2024
dual occupancy houses on propertyForrest Small Homes Owner
Dual occupancy homes have emerged as a viable solution for those considering downsizing from their family home. Characterised by two separate living spaces on a single block of land, this property option offers the benefits of a more manageable living area without sacrificing investment potential or personal space. For empty nesters and retirees, this presents…
dual occupancy houses on property

Dual occupancy homes have emerged as a viable solution for those considering downsizing from their family home. Characterised by two separate living spaces on a single block of land, this property option offers the benefits of a more manageable living area without sacrificing investment potential or personal space. For empty nesters and retirees, this presents an alternative to traditional downsizing, enabling homeowners to stay on their property rather than move to a smaller home or apartment.

The dual occupancy model supports mixed generational living arrangements, which can be particularly beneficial for extended families. The design allows for family members to be in close proximity while also providing independence and privacy. It can also be a way for homeowners to supplement their income. Renting out one of the dwellings can provide a steady stream of revenue without having to purchase an investment property.

Economic advantages aside, dual occupancy facilitates a lifestyle choice that supports a balance between communal living and individual autonomy. Placing an additional home on the back of an existing one is increasingly being recognised for its flexibility, addressing diverse family needs while maintaining a sense of community. 

This approach to housing is quickly gaining traction across Australia as populations grow and housing needs become more varied.

What Is A Dual Occupancy?

Dual occupancy refers to a residential development where two separate dwellings are built on a single parcel of land. This arrangement can take several forms, including:

  • Two Detached Houses: Two independent houses built on the same piece of land.
  • Semi-Detached Houses: Two houses that share a common wall but are otherwise separate.
  • A Main House and a Secondary Dwelling: Often referred to as a granny flat, small home or accessory dwelling unit (ADU), where a smaller, secondary home is built in addition to the primary residence.

Dual occupancy homes offer a contemporary approach to utilising residential land effectively. This living arrangement caters to various lifestyle requirements and financial goals across Australia.

Practical Considerations

As well as legal and zoning considerations, it’s important to build the right type of home for individual needs and financial situations.

Practical considerations include:

  • Land space: Is there sufficient space both indoors and outdoors for both dwellings? This might include separate gardens, patios, or decks as well as accessibility for people and vehicles.
  • Design Adaptability: The secondary dwelling can be designed to be age-friendly, with features like single-level living, wider doorways, and grab rails.
  • Council Approvals and Regulations: It’s important to understand local regulations and obtain the necessary approvals for dual occupancy developments.
  • Financial Planning: Consulting with financial advisors to understand the costs and potential benefits, including impacts on pensions and other entitlements.
  • Construction and Disruption: Planning the construction to minimise disruption and ensure that residents can remain in the home during the build, if possible.
Smiling elderly husband and wife at table with dinner in their granny flat

What are the benefits of dual occupancy?

There are a number of benefits homeowners can find through dual occupancy arrangements, particularly as a strategic alternative to downsizing. Older Australians can optimise their living arrangement to suit their lifestyle and financial needs without relocating. The other benefit Australians are keying into is that adult children living at home can continue to stay close while having some independence until they have secured a property of their own.

Retirement Benefits

Dual occupancy can be an excellent solution for older Australians who are considering downsizing but wish to remain in their long-term homes. A custom-built home on the same property allows individuals to stay in their familiar neighbourhood, maintaining close ties with their community, friends, and local services. This can save the high expense of selling and moving as well as reduce stress.

Lifestyle Benefits

This living arrangement maximises land use and minimises garden and property upkeep, making living at home more manageable. Homeowners can choose to move into the newly built quarters with lower maintenance needs, also allowing them to customise a home exactly to their requirements, including features like disability access for a home that supports comfort and safety into the future.

Financial benefits

Financially, dual occupancy can offer significant advantages by enabling property owners to rent one dwelling while living in the other. With careful screening, the right renters can provide additional income to supplement retirement finances. The additional building can be viewed as an investment that is returned through rent, also potentially increasing the overall value of the property. Another option is subdividing; selling one and living in the other, allowing homeowners to pad their nest egg or pay off their mortgage using the value in their backyard.

Housing Options for Extended Family

Dual occupancy can foster stronger family connections by providing the space to accommodate elderly parents or support adult children who are facing challenges entering the property market. It ensures that relatives can live in close proximity, providing mutual assistance and enriching family relationships while maintaining some independence.

As housing needs evolve with time, dual occupancy stands as a viable, space-efficient option that deserves attention.

Types of Dwellings

When contemplating an alternative to downsizing from a larger home, there are specific dwelling types to consider, particularly granny flats and small homes. 

Granny flats are self-contained living areas situated on the same grounds as a family home, which can be either attached to the main house or a stand-alone structure. These dwellings typically include essential amenities such as a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and living area.

Small homes are fully independent, smaller-scale residential structures that have gained popularity due to their affordability and reduced maintenance needs. These compact residences are designed for efficiency, often featuring an open floor plan to maximise the use of space and minimise wasted areas. While they afford less overall square footage compared to traditional homes, small homes can still provide a comfortable and functional living space through clever design and careful planning.

Both dwellings can be considered asset-wise choices, with the potential to add value to a property and offer rental opportunities.

architectural construction drawings

What are the Rules?

When considering a dual occupancy development, several regulations must be observed. Each municipality has distinct criteria to be satisfied before construction can commence, with permits and building approvals signed off by local council. 

Regulatory aspects are overseen by both local and state government planning codes and address requirements such as:

  • Minimum lot size
  • The necessity for off-street parking
  • Guidelines for dwelling height and orientation

These standards help preserve community aesthetics, infrastructural integrity, and property value within the neighbourhood.

Legal and Zoning Considerations

Adhering to legal prescriptions is fundamental for dual occupancy approval. Any errors can incur significant delay and expense. Zoning information can be accessed through the local council. Some areas have specific rules about the size and placement of secondary dwellings. While the rules vary based on specific local council requirements and state planning laws, some general principles apply broadly across Australia.

Zoning Laws

Check local zoning regulations to ensure dual occupancy is permitted on your property. The land must be zoned appropriately for residential use, and sometimes, more specifically, for dual occupancy. This will dictate the permissible size and type of structures. 

Density and lot size are also significant considerations. Certain land sizes may be required to build dual occupancies, and the number of dwellings allowed on a parcel of land pertains to its density classification.

Planning and Building Approvals

Obtain the necessary planning permissions and building permits from your local council. There are costs associated with completing these documents. Developers must submit detailed plans for approval before construction commences. 

Building plans must comply with the local council’s planning scheme, which includes the Residential Design Codes (R-Codes). These codes establish standards for various elements like site coverage, dwelling size, parking, privacy, and amenities.

Building regulations relating to safety, accessibility, and construction standards must be complied with. These are outlined in the National Construction Code (NCC), which sets the minimum required standards for the design and construction of buildings.

Setbacks from boundaries and building height limitations are further regulated. These ensure new buildings are consistent with the surrounding area’s character and light, privacy and views are reasonably maintained for neighbours.

Utilities such as water, sewage, and electricity must be adequately planned for. This includes connecting each dwelling independently to the essential services or ensuring the existing services can accommodate the additional load.

It is important to consult with the local council and consider engaging a professional, such as a town planner or architect, to assist with the application process and ensure that all regulations are met. Compliance is vital not just for legal approval, but also for the safety, functionality, and compatibility of the dual occupancy with its neighbourhood.


Dual occupancy presents an alternative for those contemplating downsizing, affording homeowners the flexibility to remain in their familiar communities while optimising their property’s value. Dual occupancy can also cater to multigenerational families, offering a practical solution that balances proximity with individual living spaces.

Those seeking a balance between downsizing and investment can assess this opportunity, provided they make informed decisions for their unique circumstances. Considerations like privacy, council regulations, and cost should be carefully weighed to determine if an additional dwelling will suit lifestyle and financial goals. 

By leveraging dual occupancy, older Australians can effectively downsize without the emotional and logistical challenges of leaving their long-term home. This solution balances the need for a more suitable living arrangement with the desire to maintain independence and stay connected to an established community.

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