California is facing a critical imbalance between the explosive demand for housing generated by massive job growth in our urban centers and the relatively slow development of new residential stock in those areas. Increasing numbers of industry experts, elected officials, and city planners have concluded that a critical component in helping bridge this gap will be in encouraging the proliferation of accessory dwelling units (“ADUs”). More colloquially known as “granny units” or “in-law flats,” these types of quarters encompass a broad range of structures, from stand-alone cottages to modular components to attached but separate portions of a main building.
ADUs are not a new idea—far from it—but local “NIMBY” ordinances intended to preserve the existing character of local neighborhoods in large metropolitan areas have artificially restrained their use over the last several decades. These restrictions have included, inter alia, constrictive ADU size limitations, on-site owner residence requirements, prohibitive minimum lot sizes, and extraordinary parking mandates. While such checks on the utilization of ADUs have served to prevent many people from moving forward with building these units in compliance with local codes, others have not let these impediments stop them; it is estimated that Los Angeles may have as many as 50,000 illegal ADUs.
Recent California legislation aimed at ameliorating the state’s housing shortage is expected to accelerate the construction of ADUs statewide, however. Lawmakers adopted a spate of new measures in 2016 and 2017 intended to restrict excessive local regulation of ADUs, including basement apartments, garage conversions, and backyard cottages. These reforms established statewide ADU standards, voided local ordinances that imposed restrictions in excess of these standards, set forth a process and timeline for local governments to come into compliance with these new standards, and addressed myriad means of overregulation, including the permitting process, design requirements, parking mandates, development fees, and the like.
As evidenced by recent developments, these efforts appear to be paying off. Permits for and construction of ADUs are up in all areas of the state, according to the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, which recently released a report examining ADU applications from 2015 through 2017 analyzing how regulatory changes are spurring the construction of ADUs. Still, property owners who want to plan and execute an ADU project will need a source of information about available resources, local ordinances, and tools that could help increase the chances of success for their projects.
With these needs in mind, I have created this new website as an offshoot of my main real estate law blog, with the goal of helping those of you interested in taking advantage of ADUs meet these needs. This website provides a blog summarizing relevant current events in the news relating to ADUs, as well as an extensive FAQ addressing the basics of ADUs. I have also included a couple of online tools that could save time for those of you who are prospective ADU developers. First, I have included an Excel-based “Return on Investment” tool, which has been preloaded with a template designed for use with ADUs to help you in planning a project and keeping track of costs. Second, I have provided a section with links to the ordinances of each jurisdiction in Santa Clara County/Silicon Valley that has adopted new regulations in compliance with state law, which will make it easier for you to stay compliant with your local ordinances.
Finally, candid recommendations for the types of skilled professionals whose services are indispensable for these ventures (e.g., architects, contractors, engineers, etc.) can be helpful. In an effort to provide this sort of assistance, I have included on this new website a forum for references by clients of these local ADU project vendors. As you have successful dealings with such vendors, we hope you will share your thoughts on this site for everyone’s benefit.
Please feel free to contact me if you have questions about ADUs or if you are looking for professional services related to their planning, design, construction or marketing.