“Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)” by: Saeed Ghaffari

“Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)” by: Saeed Ghaffari

February 10, 2021


By Saeed Ghaffari

Saeed Ghaffari

Saeed is the founder of Money, Real Estate & More. With over 30 years of experience as a lender, investor and a real estate professional, he provides free consulting in these fields. To connect with Saeed, sign up for free / log in on moreandmorenetwork.com


Saeed Ghaffari

Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) also known as granny flat, in-law suite, second unit, or whatever else you like to call it, is a legally structured independent living space sharing the same lot as the main house. ADUs are becoming very popular in the state of California and the state is advocating for them too.  Let’s find out why and learn more about the rules and regulations and the pros and cons of this popular structures.

State of California is advocating building of ADUs for numerous reasons.  Currently the state is dealing with challenges such as housing affordability, housing shortage, and keeping pace with demand, to name a few. ADUs may not solve all of the above problems, but they certainly can lend a hand. From the home owners’ perspective, they come with benefits too.

Looking from the home owners’ perspective, ADUs provide housing to family members such as college students, adult siblings, in-laws (if you want them around) and the elderly with total independence. They also make a good housing option for the in-home health care providers at the time of need. If none of the above apply to one, they would also make a good rental income source, helping offset the housing expenses and they add value to the property upon resale, should they be done right.

From the state’s perspective, ADUs help with the shortage of housing, provide affordable housing, keep the population around economic centers and prevent them from escaping the high cost of living in metro areas to suburbs or rural areas.  Keeping the population closer to the economic centers has positive environmental impacts and enhances the quality of life. Less driving means, less pollution, less stress, and more productivity and family time. 

As good as ADUs may be, they are not all perfect, they come with some drawbacks. The first thing that stands out, they make the neighborhood population denser. Consequently, that comes with more noise and traffic in a once was a quiet neighborhood.  It also increases the traffic in residential neighborhoods and impacts parking adversely, especially when garages are allowed to be converted to ADUs. Because the state is advocating for ADUs, the cities are losing their jurisdiction more and more and the ADU laws are mostly legislated by the state. It’s a good thing and a bad thing. The good is that there will be more uniformity across the state, the bad is, the statewide laws made from a ten-thousand-foot view by the state do not take the neighborhood challenges specific to a locality into consideration as well as the local municipalities can do. As I said earlier, that’s a challenge with every social issue, they come as a package.  Should you decide to move forward with an ADU on your property, here are some more information for you.

ADUs proposed pursuant to subdivision (e) must be considered in any residential or mixed-use zone.  Residential or mixed-use zone should be construed broadly to mean any zone where residential uses are permitted by-right or by conditional use.

A local government may apply development and design standards that include, but are not limited to, parking, height, setback, landscape, architectural review, and maximum size of a unit;

  • when ADUs are created through the conversion of a garage or carport can’t require replacement parking spaces
  • Guest parking spaces shall not be required for ADUs under any circumstances.
  • Some ADUs are exempt from parking requirements, for example:
    • ADU is within one-half mile walking distance of public transit.
    • When ADU is part of existing residence
  • Can have height and setback limits
  • Height 16 feet
  • Setback 4 feet
  • Exceptions will be allowed
  • Eliminates owner-occupancy requirements for ADUs approved between 2020 and end of 2024
    • There are owner-occupancy requirements for JADUs. The owner must reside in either remaining portion of the primary residence, or in the newly created JADU.
  • Local agencies may require that the property be used for rentals of terms longer than 30 days.
  • Can prohibit ADUs based on adequacy of water and sewer services, impacts on traffic flow, and public safety
  • (CC&Rs) that effectively prohibit or unreasonably restrict ADU or JADU on a lot zoned for single-family residential use are void and unenforceable.

Here are some zoning and development regulations:

  • While local governments may impose standards on ADUs, these standards shall not include minimum lot size requirements.
  • Must allow ADU of at least 850 square feet, or 1,000 square feet if it contains more than one bedroom
  • conversion of existing accessory structure or portion of the existing primary residence to ADU doesn’t count.
    • example, existing 3,000 square foot barn converted to ADU not subject to size requirements,
  • Parking requirements shall not exceed one parking space per unit or bedroom, whichever is less.
  • spaces may be provided as tandem parking.
  • Tandem means parked one behind another. Two cars deeps on a driveway

ADUs like any other building require permits to be legally constructed. However, obtaining permits for ADUs is supposed to be much easier than other buildings as they are reviewed for objectively verifiable criteria.

If you are embarking on building an ADU or making any improvement to your property, be mindful of your neighbors, your neighborhood and be a good citizen.


Source: Colin Burns, general counsel for the City of Fountain Valley

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