Accessory Dwelling Unit Update 2020

With the arrival of the new year, new housing laws are taking hold in California. Red tape has been cleared for homeowners to build not just one, but two accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, under ministerial approval from local governments.  ADUs, also called “granny flats,” offer cities an opportunity to develop new housing units that are not disruptive to the look and feel of single-family neighborhoods. 

ADUs are small by design and share a lot with the existing residence — often making them more affordable to renters than an apartment of comparable size.

Until now, there has been a patchwork of state and local laws regulating ADUs, but nothing before has been so bold and comprehensive as Assembly Bills 68 and 881 — which passed in 2019 and took effect Jan. 1. Every local government in California must now follow a new regulatory framework that includes these provisions and more:

1. ADUs are allowed on most single-family lots, including one freestanding ADU and a “junior ADU” created within the square footage of the existing house.
2. Fast-track, 60-day approvals for ADUs with no minimum lot size requirements and a maximum 4-foot setback from property lines
3. Local governments cannot impose impact fees on ADUs under 750 square feet.
4. HOAs, CC&Rs or neighborhood groups cannot prevent homeowners from building ADUs on single-family lots.
5. Garage conversions are allowed without requiring replacement of any lost parking spaces.
6. No owner-occupancy requirements allowed until Jan. 1, 2025

These laws supersede non-compliant local ordinances.

For homeowners considering an ADU, regulatory barriers are reduced and fees lowered. For renters, these new laws can spur the development of more affordable housing opportunities. For cities, ADUs offer the possibility of creating new housing stock without the NIMBY push back that plays out in public hearings. ADU residents also would add to the critical mass needed to support walkable, lively downtowns and activate key city corridors.

For Further Reading:
Resources for further reading into ideas presented in this article include:
• Article, San Jose Mercury News: https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/12/06/2020-may-be-a-good-time-to-build-a-granny-flat/
• Article, S.F. Bay.com: https://sfbayca.com/2020/01/19/cities-move-to-comply-with-state-accessory-dwelling-unit-laws/

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