Accessory Dwelling Units

Thanks to recent legislation as well as additional proposed bills awaiting approval, the requirements to construct accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in California have been or will be relaxed. These long-awaited changes will enable many homeowners to create secondary dwelling units without having to jump through what has been a myriad of barriers that resulted in increased cost and time outlay as well as incredible frustration to meet stringent rules.

The reasons homeowners are building or want to construct ADUs are twofold:

  1. Rental income
  2. Housing for family members

These changes could help fulfill some of the housing needs in areas like Silicon Valley as well as help homeowners meet their mortgage payments. And, for those who have extended family, it can provide nearby accommodations or even enable seniors to stay in their homes longer by having caregivers live onsite, or renting their larger home while living in the smaller unit.

What Defines an Accessory Dwelling Unit?

  • A separate (or attached), smaller dwelling on the same property as a single family home
  • The structure is legally part of the same property on which it resides and cannot be bought or sold separately
  • The unit must include a bedroom or combined bedroom-living space, full bath, kitchen/kitchenette that includes a cleaning area (sink), cooking appliance and refrigerator
  • It must also adhere to all of the existing building codes

Also known as backyard cottages, granny or in-law units, ADUs were extremely popular until the mid-20th century when housing was overly abundant. Cities began implementing parameters to restrict overbuilding, which directly affected the quantity of ADUs constructed. These prohibitive standards encompassed off-street parking requirements, setbacks, lot coverage, and construction mandates.

But within the past two or three years, California has either implemented or proposed multiple bills (AB-2299, SB-1069 and the most recent, SB-831) to amend or appeal many of the prior restrictions.

Some statewide changes or proposed amendments include:

  • Minimizing or elimination of off-street parking requirements depending upon the ADU created
  • Reduction or eradication of exorbitant utility hook-up fees
  • Applications for ADUs must approved or denied within 120 days
  • The permitted size of an ADU has been increased from 30% to 50% of the existing living area, with a maximum of 1200 SF

As a general rule, cities must allow ADUs as mandated by the state but can create ordinances that take into account specific guidelines based on the city in question. For example, the size of a lot will dictate the size of an ADU that can be constructed on that property, meaning the 50% of existing living space rule may not apply. Los Gatos, Palo Alto, Santa Cruz and beyond will each have slightly unique guidelines and it is important to know these prior to embarking on the creation of an accessory dwelling.

If you’ve been considering building a secondary dwelling unit on your property, the changes that have been implemented as well as those to come are in your favor. Be sure to employ a good architect and licensed contractor who can help you meet your specific city’s ADU guidelines.

For more information on ADUs, including recent changes in requirements in Los Gatos, we encourage you to read the below articles:

San Jose Mercury News: Property owners have some flexibility under new rules for accessory dwelling units

San Francisco Chronicle: New California housing laws make granny units easier to build

New California Laws Affecting Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

The Dawn Thomas Team artfully unites special homes with extraordinary lives in Silicon Valley and Santa Cruz County. Contact us today and we can assist you in selling or buying your home.