On January 1, 2017, the state passed two new laws, AB2299 and SB1069, which are designed to ease homeowner requirements for the creation of accessory dwelling units, otherwise known as ADUs. It will also make it simpler for homeowners in cities such as Los Gatos, Palo Alto and Santa Cruz with existing illegal units, often primarily because of utility and parking issues, to bring them into compliance.
Approximately two-thirds of California’s cities and counties have already established ADU ordinances, but the new state law is more accommodating than the majority of these local requirements. Jurisdictions will be required to implement or revise their local regulations to comply with the new state law by Jan. 1 or will have to follow the state law until a compliant version is approved.
Two of the most prohibitive requirements currently in place when it comes to accessory dwellings, also called in-law or granny units, are those that impose significant utility set up fees and challenging off-street parking prerequisites.
There will be two sets of rules under the new state legislation, one which governs units created within the existing square footage of the home, such as a garage, basement or attic, while the other rules are for granny units that will add additional square footage, be it an attached or detached structure. The new edict allows an accessory unit of up to 1,200 square feet to be constructed on any lot with a single-family home. It also doesn’t prohibit renting the unit to short-term guests or requiring that the owners live in one unit.
Despite these state guidelines, local ordinances will still have precedence over the following:
- Local building codes
- Permitting based on water and sewer services, traffic flow and public safety
- Ability to reduce square footage limits
- Establish standards for building height, set back, lot coverage and architectural review
- Set parameters on the rental of the unit as well as whether either the single family home or accessory dwelling must be owner-occupied
Once a homeowner has submitted an application for an ADU that meets both state and local standards, the city has 120 days to review and approve, with no neighbor notification necessary.
Two of the most prohibitive measures that stand in the way of the construction of secondary units include the strict off-street parking requirement and the often-exorbitant utility set-up fees.
The new California legislation states that if the accessory unit is created within the existing footprint of the house, no additional parking is needed. For granny units built that add square footage, one additional off-street parking space per bedroom is required but this is waived if:
- The home in within ½ mile of public transportation
- The property is within one block of a car-share
- The house is in a historically significant borough
- If on-street parking permits are required but not offered to the ADU occupant
If additional parking space is needed, it can be tandem parking in the exiting driveway or in setback areas on the property, if feasible.
With regard to the utility fees, the California law prohibits homeowners from being required to install new or separate utility connections if the secondary unit is within the existing home square footage. It also forbids utilities from levying connection fees or capacity charges in this situation.
For ADUs that add extra square footage, new or separate utility connections as well connection fees and capacity charges are allowable but they must be “proportionate to the burden” of the auxiliary unit based on its square footage or the quantity of plumbing fixtures.
A third law, AB2406, which took effect when Governor Jerry Brown signed it in September, offers cities the option of allowing homeowners to construct a “junior accessory dwelling unit” within an existing bedroom that has an efficiency kitchen, defined as no gas or appliances requiring 220 volts, and an interior connection to the main house. This connection can be two doors with separate locks, similar to adjoining hotel rooms. This law offers the least expensive way in which to create an additional living unit as there there is no need for a separate address, heating unit or fire separation. This law does, however, require one of the units to be owner-occupied and some cities are choosing not to enact it within their boundaries.
If you are considering adding or bring an existing unit within compliance, we recommend you contact the City Planning Department for specifics on the local requirements. Here are more details on the updated regulations as applied in Palo Alto.
Though building regulations are still strict, these three laws will make the creation of secondary living spaces more affordable and easier to bring into compliance. This will enable homeowners to construction accessory buildings that they can rent for additional income or allow multigenerational living or living spaces for care providers.