Updated ADU Laws: SB 897 and HCD’s ADU Handbook

Accessory Dwelling Units are more popular than ever, and cities across California are recognizing the importance of ADUs in the fight to end the state’s housing crisis. Just recently, Freddie Mac updated their ADU financing options and CalHFA extended their ADU Grant Program to help even more homeowners build backyard homes. Now, there are two more news items to add to the list of developments. In August, 2022 the California Senate voted to pass SB 897 (a brand-new law that clarifies previous ADU legislation), and the California Department of Housing and Community Development updated their ADU Handbook.

New ADU Law: California’s SB 897
Senate Bill 897 clarifies and expands upon previously passed statewide legislation regarding accessory dwelling units. While all cities must allow ADUs, jurisdictions are allowed to adopt ordinances to tailor the law’s implementation to their local needs. However, some cities have used these ordinances as a way to complicate or restrict the development of accessory dwelling units.

In response, Senator Bob Wieckowski proposed SB 897. While the Senate voted to pass the law, it will need to be re-reviewed by the Committee on Governance and Finance before it can be passed into law. Once passed, this new law will limit the ability of jurisdictions to impose standards on ADUs in the following ways.

Objective Standards Only
ADU laws in recent years have allowed cities to implement an ordinance regarding ADU guidelines. Now, thanks to SB 897, all standards imposed on ADUs must be objective. The law clarifies that an objective standard “involves no personal or subjective judgment by a public official and is uniformly verifiable.”

Height Limit Increase
Previously, under State law, cities had to allow at least 16 feet for ADU height. SB 897 increases the height maximum to 18 feet for properties within High Transit Areas, and for detached ADUs on properties that contain multistory multifamily buildings. For all attached ADUs, the new height maximum is 25 feet.

Nonconforming Structure
ADU and JADU (Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit) permits can’t be denied for nonconforming zoning conditions, building code violations, or unpermitted structures on the property, unless they pose a threat to public health and safety.

Concurrent Permit Review
Cities must review and issue demolition permits at the same time as ADU permits. Applicants are no longer required to provide written notice or post a placard for the demolition of a detached garage that is to be replaced by an accessory dwelling unit.

No Group R Change
SB 897 clarifies that an ADU construction does not constitute a Group R occupancy change.
Additionally, cities may not require ADU permit applicants to install sprinklers in the primary dwelling.

If an existing multi-family dwelling on the property exceeds the height limit or has rear or side setbacks smaller than 4 feet, a local agency may not require correction of the nonconforming attributes as a condition of issuing an ADU permit, nor can the agency reject an ADU application on these grounds.

Retroactive Permitting
A local agency may not deny a permit for an unpermitted ADU constructed before January 1, 2018.

New Updates to the HCD’s ADU Handbook
In other ADU news, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (also known as the HCD) recently updated their ADU Handbook. This government agency last updated their official ADU handbook in December 2020, and a lot has changed since then. The July 2022 version of the ADU Handbook clarifies some of the language from the previous version and expands upon the FAQ and Definitions sections. It also includes information about 2021’s AB 345 law, which allows ADUs to be sold separately in some limited circumstances.

Additionally, the updated handbook includes new guidelines for ADUs on multifamily properties, as well as information on ADU financial assistance. The updated handbook also mentions Senate Bill 9 (SB 9), the new law that allows homeowners in single-family residential zones to split their lot and build additional units.

With all the recent increase in support, it’s safe to say that ADUs are a permanent part of the housing landscape. While some cities originally scoffed at ADU legislation and tried to discourage development, most California cities are now embracing backyard homes and relying on them to fulfill their housing goals. And once SB 897 is adopted, cities won’t be able to pass as many ADU restrictions. As the HCD ADU Handbook reminds us, state ADU law is the minimum. Cities should be using local ADU ordinances to further support development, not discourage it.

For Further Reading:
• In March ABODU published then-current ADU information in the article, “How California’s New ADU Laws Affect Homeowners which can be read at: https://www.abodu.com/2022/03/14/how-californias-new-adu-laws-affect-homeowners
• The HomeWork, the official newsletter of California YIMBY described up-to-the-minute updates to CA ADU laws at their blog entry for September 1st 2022 at: https://cayimby.org/the-homework-september-1-2022/
• HCD’s ADU Handbook July update is available as a resource at: https://www.hcd.ca.gov/sites/default/files/2022-07/ADUHandbookUpdate.pdf

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