Basics of Zoning in Austin

As the result of the mounting problems from the rapid relatively uncontrolled growth of cities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, local governments began to adopt regulations to make cities more “orderly”, livable, safe and sanitary. Zoning ordinances regulate height and setbacks to allow sunlight and air to reach adjacent properties and to restrict incompatible uses from residential districts. They prevent overcrowding of residential areas when needed, and they serve to protect property owners from surprising and undesirable changes to their home value due to, for example, a tire dealer suddenly being built next door.Chapter 211 of the Texas Local Government Code. Chapter 211 currently provides that the zoning regulatory power is “for the purpose of promoting the public health, safety, morals, or general welfare and protecting and preserving places and areas of historical, cultural, or architectural importance and significance.

Zoning in Austin can get a bit confusing. If you want to read the entire Austin zoning guide, click here.  We share some of the basics in this FAQ-blog but encourage you to consult your attorney or the local agency responsible for zoning in your neighborhood. This page does not constitute legal or regulatory advice.

Consult the Land Development Code for details.  

What are the basic zoning categories in Austin?

Residential, Civic, Commercial, Industrial, and Agricultural. Each zoning district allows for multiple uses such as single family residential, food sales, retail, or religious assembly. Most uses are allowed in several zoning districts, and each zoning district allows several uses.

City of Austin Planning & Zoning Department

If interested in finding out the zoning for a particular property, here is the City of Austin site.

Since the Adam Timothy Group primarily supports our clients in their single family residential transactions, we will focus mostly on residential zoning codes. The most common involved in most of our work is SF-3.

What is SF-3?

SF-3 – Single Family is the most common zoning in Austin. Called the Family Residence district by Planning Department.

Family Residence district is intended as an area for moderate density single-family residential use, with a minimum lot size of 5,750 square feet. Duplex use is permitted under development standards that maintain single-family neighborhood characteristics. This district is appropriate for existing single-family neighborhoods having typically moderate sized lot patterns, as well as for development of additional family housing areas with minimum land requirements.

City of Austin Planning & Zoning Department

Here is a guide from the City of Austin explaining the SF-3 limits.

So what can I build on an SF-3 zoned lot?

Quite a bit actually!

The table below shows what can be built based on each zoning code.

The minimum lot size for SF-3 is 5750 square feet and on a lot of this size or larger, you are allowed to build a single-family or a single-family with an ADU (additional dwelling unit). If the lot is zoned SF-3 and is 7000 square feet or more you can build a duplex in MOST neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods have what it’s called a cottage rule which prohibits building more than one home on a lot.

What are the rules for ADUs in Austin?

From the City of Austin website:

An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) is a separate dwelling unit on the same property as a single-family home that is smaller in size and regulated by the City of Austin’s Land Development Code § 25-2-774 Two-Family Residential Use

Some of the requirements for ADUs in the City of Austin are as follows:

  • – Minimum lot size for ADUs on SF-3 zoned lots is 5,750 square feet.
  • – Maximum size of an ADU is 1,100 square feet or 0.15 FAR whichever is smaller.
  • – Buildings must be separated by a minimum of 10 feet (front to back and side to side).

  • An ADU requires parking be added in addition to parking requirements for the main structure (two parking spaces for a single-family home). If the site is located more than a quarter mile from an activity corridor (as defined by the Comprehensive Plan), then the addition of an ADU would trigger the need for an additional parking space. If the site is less than or equal to a quarter mile from an activity corridor, additional parking is not required. For more information: ADU Areas of Reduced Parking on Interactive ArcGIS Map

  • Use as a short-term rental is limited to a maximum of 30 days per year for ADUs constructed after October 1, 2015.  

For more info about Two-Family Residential Use via an “ADU” built on a lot with another home, click here.

Wait! What’s the difference between a single-family with ADU and two single family homes or a “Duplex”?

Ok, first a refresher. The minimum lot size for SF-3 is 5750 square feet. Building an ADU is allowed on this lot, along with loads of other things as shown in the chart above. SF-3 means you can build a house and an ADU OR you can build a duplex.

If the lot is zoned SF-3 AND is 7000 square feet or more you can build a duplex in most neighborhoods (your realtor or the Title Company can help you confirm). The difference between the duplex and ADU is LARGELY BUT NOT EXCLUSIVELY based on how they are built. For example, build two homes with separate utilities, plumbing and meters, a clear ownership of a portion of the lot, and a mailing address? That’s a duplex. Its basically built for another family. Build an apartment over a garage or a small unit behind the main house, that’s an ADU. For more duplex information click here

To add more confusion (sorry!), some neighborhoods have what it’s called a cottage rule which prohibits building more than one home on a lot.

I think I understand what zoning code allows for my property.
But does that mean I can airBNB my property, either the main home or the ADU/duplex?

That would be a “MAYBE”. Owners of Short-Term Rentals (STRs) are required by the City of Austin to obtain an operating license and renew annually.

  • Type 2 STRs have historically NOT been allowed but that has been challenged in the courts. Type 2 is in essence what most investors are actually seeking with investments in real estate. They are not owner-occupied or associated with an owner-occupied principal residence. So, if you don’t live there, at least in one building unit on the lot, officially you cannot provide a short term rental service.
  • If you do live on the property, you may apply for a type 1 license. To qualify for this licence, owners must provide documentation that the property is owner-occupied or is associated with an owner-occupied principal residential unit.

DISCLAIMER: This Guide is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal regulations. Consult the Land Development Code for specific regulations:
Everything you need to know about zoning in Austin is on the City of Austin website and this zoning guide.

Note:  Your property may have deed restrictions that affect how it can be used.  The City of Austin does not directly manage or check for deed restrictions.  Deed restrictions are established when the property is developed or added later by owners.  They are separate and apart from zoning. This is regularly the case with new developments that are part of HOAs.

Interesting Related Reading

A color-coded map shows why Austin is fast becoming one of the least affordable cities in the US: Boomers have zoned most of the city like an exclusive suburb >>