California’s Changing ADU Laws: A Solution or Neighborhood Battle?

Napa, California – The laws surrounding accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and junior accessory dwelling units (JADUs) in California are undergoing continual changes. ADUs, commonly referred to as granny flats or in-law units, are aimed at alleviating the housing shortage by creating more housing options. In the past, the state permitted one main residence, one ADU, and one JADU on any legal single-family residential lot. However, a new state policy is giving municipalities the authority to approve an additional detached ADU under certain circumstances and interpretations.

The combination of these laws, along with other housing laws like Senate Bill SB9, has the potential to allow up to eight homes on one lot. Little public noticing is required once a complete application is accepted by local agencies, potentially leading to neighborhood conflicts. However, the specifics of these changes are not yet official law.

To facilitate the addition of ADUs, Senate Bill SB897 has been implemented in order to simplify and reduce the cost of the construction process. This bill eliminates minimum lot sizes and coverage requirements, making ADUs possible on smaller lots. It also relaxes setback requirements, particularly for smaller ADUs. However, maintaining a 4-foot distance from property lines remains essential.

Furthermore, a “policy” implemented by the State Housing Department now permits ADUs in sensitive habitat areas and high-fire hazard severity zones. This may include ADUs in hillside areas with narrow and steep roads, raising concerns about fire suppression and construction access. The laws surrounding these developments vary among different municipalities, and it is important to consult with local building and fire departments for specific regulations.

Another significant change is the saleability of individual ADUs. While ADUs were initially intended to provide more housing opportunities, they are not exclusively used for rentals. Property owners often utilize newly constructed ADUs as pools, offices, or guest houses. Assembly Bill AB1033 now permits ADUs to be separated and sold, effectively allowing for the creation of two or more condominiums on a residential lot. However, specific Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs) need to be established to govern the use of these properties.

The lending industry may encounter challenges in financing the construction of ADUs, and financing separate condo ADUs on a property may be uncommon or difficult. However, city governments have taken steps to incentivize ADU construction. For instance, San Diego city has implemented an “ADU Bonus Program” that allows additional ADUs to be built if one is dedicated to lower-income renters. This program has the potential to increase low-income housing availability if San Diego chooses to opt into AB1033.

One obstacle to ADU construction is the imposition of Municipal Impact Fees (MIFs). These fees cover building permit expenses and additional costs for maintaining existing services that have not been passed on to all existing residences. The question arises as to whether these fees should be applied to new ADUs. Municipal fee schedules vary greatly, and the fees for ADUs can be difficult to determine until a complete application is submitted.

Overall, the continually evolving laws and policies surrounding ADUs in California have the potential to significantly impact housing options and availability. However, challenges remain, such as financing obstacles and ongoing conflicts between neighborhoods and municipalities. The success of ADUs in addressing the housing shortage ultimately depends on how these issues are navigated and resolved.