ADUs - It's the Law

Last week, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a package of innovative Accessory Dwelling Unit regulations that effectively end Single-Family zoning in California – making building Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) easier, more streamlined, and quicker throughout the state.

The State of California initially passed ADU by right legislation back in 2012, but local jurisdictions continued to make the process difficult, if not impossible for those looking to build.

Under legislation passed in 2016 and enacted in January 1, 2017, the state further strengthened the laws. But in a loophole exploited by many municipalities, the state law still allowed local governments to enact ordinances that essentially rendered ADU development impossible or prohibitively expensive.

Some jurisdictions have local regulations with extreme requirements for minimum lot size, setbacks, floor area, open space, or other requirements that effectively make ADUs illegal on most lots.

Other jurisdictions have an approval process that homeowners find impossible to navigate. Some cities use their high impact fees to make ADU development economically infeasible.

Thanks to the efforts of Assembly members Ting, Friedman and Bloom, Senator Wieckowski and the signature of Gavin Newsom, those days are in the past.

Here’s a quick look at the new bills:

Assembly Bill 68

  • Prohibits minimum lot size requirements, the easiest way for local governments to limit ADU development.

  • Caps setback requirements at 4 feet, opening up much more available space for ADU development in backyards. Rear yard setbacks affecting ADUs of 25 to 30 feet are very common in single-family neighborhoods throughout the state; such generous mandatory yards can be quite pleasant, while also not competing with an ADU for space.

  • ·Prohibits the application of lot coverage, floor area ratio, or open space regulations that would prevent an 800 square foot ADU from being developed on the lot.

This guarantees a homeowner’s right to add an ADU on nearly every single-family lot in California.

  • Prohibits replacement parking requirements when an existing garage is converted to an ADU. Requiring replacement parking can make it infeasible to develop an ADU on smaller lots, especially if the replacement parking needs to be covered. Many garage conversions come about because the homeowner no longer needs or wants the parking their garage would otherwise provide; encouraging this is common sense in today’s era of climate change where every molecule of carbon matters.

  • Limits local discretion in establishing minimum and maximum unit size requirements, guaranteeing at least an 850 square foot unit ADU, or 1000 square feet for an ADU with more than one bedroom.

  • Shortens the time period for consideration of ADU permit applications to 60 days, through a non-discretionary process.

  • Requires that cities reconsider their ADU ordinance if the Department of Housing and Community Development finds the ordinance out of compliance with state law.

  • State Senate Bill 13 mirrors many of these provisions, including shortening approval time frames to 60 days, and outlawing minimum lot sizes, and increasing size restriction placed on ADUs from some jurisdictions.

Further, SB13 enacts the following:

  • Outlaws owner occupancy requirements

  • Significantly reduces impact fees, eliminates impact fees for ADUs under 750 square feet, and would be require any fees to be proportional to the size of the primary dwelling.

In addition, Assembly Bill 670 prohibits Homeowner Association from restricting Accessory Dwelling Units.

Taken toogether, these new statewide laws increase the standardization and the ability to build Accessory Dwelling Units.

However, the biggest game changer of all could be the allowing of both Junior ADUs and regular ADUs on each single-family lot.

A JADU must be constructed out of already permitted place, such as a permitted garage, an attic or a basement. The size is 400 square feet with an additional 150 square feet if needed for ingress or egress. The ADU must meet the 4ft. setback requirements, the 16 ft. height limit (in certain jurisdiction permitted to be higher) and a maximum footprint of 1200 or 1000 square feet depending again on jurisdiction.

Both new laws and the old laws are great steps forward, but it remains to be seen what is actually happening out there in the field.

The important item to remember is the foundational reason for most of the new laws were abuses by local jurisdictions in the field. Some local jurisdictions have been requiring a 15 ft. setback from power poles. Others have been charging absorbent park fees. Many have been restricting the size of ADUs, with both Burbank and Glendale stating a 500 square foot maximum size.

Other jurisdictions have allowed ADUs only on lots above 10, 0000 square feet.

All of that changes under the new laws.

Other than removing the requirement of sprinklers (unless the main house is required to have sprinklers), the new laws still leave Building & Safety requirements up to the local jurisdictions.

That means, even though you now can be deemed approved after 60 days if you meet requirements, any new or repurposed building must still complete building inspections for occupancy requirements.

To make things even more confusing, different building inspectors can have different requirements. In Los Angeles City, the two most common and expensive item additions are the rebuilding of a foundation if converting a garage, or tying the sewer line in front of the house rather than behind the house, requiring longer sewer runs.

But, the major take-away is still that Accessory Dwelling Units and Junior Accessory Dwelling units are permitted on (almost) all Single Family lots in California.

No more confusing minimum lot sizes, FAR requirements, non-standardized setbacks or other local snafus can trip up a homeowners’ ability to make both their investment more valuable and increase their cash flow.