Two new laws passed in 2017 could help solve this housing crisis. For years, homeowners have had to jump through a plethora of bureaucratic hoops - and pay tens of thousands of dollars - to legally build or convert space on their property for a rental unit. But the new California Accessory Dwelling Unit (ACU) ordinances (AB 2299 and SB 1069) have relaxed the existing strict regulations on ACUs, otherwise known as granny flats. These laws should make it simpler and less costly for California homeowners to take advantage of extra space, earn additional income, increase their property value, and provide much-needed rental housing options. The ordinances went into effect on January 1, 2017 and included several important changes.
First, they reduce parking requirements (to one parking space per bedroom or unit) and allow for tandem parking. In addition, the ordinances prohibit parking requirements if the granny flat is located within a half mile of public transit or within one block of a car-share area, is located in a historic district, or is part of an existing residence or structure.
Second, the new laws prohibit sprinkler requirements if sprinklers were not required in the primary residence to which the granny flat belongs.
Third, they prohibit the charging of connection fees for water and sewer services if the granny flat is part of an existing residence or structure. The ordinance also prohibits requiring new connections for new structures.
Fourth, the laws also limit how much an existing structure can be expanded for an attached granny flat. They set this limit at 50 percent of the existing living area. The ordinances also set the maximum increase in floor area at 1,200 square feet.
Fifth, the laws ease the requirements regarding how far a granny flat must be located from the property line.
The new ordinances were enacted at the state level, but individual cities have also made their own changes to granny flat ordinances. The City of San Diego’s local government has chosen to go above and beyond the new state ordinances. In addition to softening parking requirements and increasing the allowable size of a granny flat to 50 percent of the square footage of the primary residence or 1,200 square feet (whichever is less), the San Diego law allows for the creation of “junior companion units” within existing single-family homes. To be legal, these units need to be a maximum of 500 square feet and require a separate kitchenette; however, they don’t need to include a separate bathroom.
The San Diego granny flat law also does not require the owner of a granny flat to live on the property. Tenants must occupy the granny flat for at least 30 days, which prevents the unit from being used as a short-term vacation rental.
In addition, San Diego city officials plan to create easy-to-use instruction manuals for homeowners interested in building or converting a granny flat, complete with sample floor plans, cost estimates, and tips to find good tenants. City officials are also discussing allowing homeowners to get automatic approval of a granny flat project if they use city-approved models and using federal money to subsidize the construction of granny flats for exclusive rental to low-income residents.
In places like North County San Diego, where homeowners in beachfront communities often rely on income from vacation rentals, local governments could choose to further ease occupancy requirements for granny flats to allow for short-term rentals. Many cities are still in the process of debating and approving their own granny flat laws, so homeowners considering creating a granny flat on their property should be sure to check in with their local city officials for the latest information and regulations.
Since the new state laws went into effect, cities like LA have reported an uptick in requests for granny flat permits. In 2016, LA issued 146 ADU permits; in 2017, the city issued roughly 2,000. San Francisco, Oakland, and Santa Barbara have also seen growth in granny flat permits.
Next up, learn about actually building a granny flat - how much construction of a granny flat costs and how much you can charge in rent for a granny flat in San Diego: Building a Granny Flat in San Diego
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