Accessory Dwelling Unit or ADU is the professional and legal term for home additions that have been known more commonly under names like In-Law Suite, Granny Flat, Carriage House, or Backyard Cottage. Regardless of how you’ve known them, ADU’s are characterized as being a secondary, fully functional living space outfitted with its own living amenities. Within this basic definition, there are a handful of most common ADU types that the State of California  has identified.

A Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit or JADU is attached to the primary residence, is no larger than 500 square feet, and is allowed to share a bathroom with the primary residence. An ADU can be freestanding or incorporated into the primary residence and can be as large as 1200 square feet if detached or up to 50% of the primary residence area if attached.

Why ADUs?

Updating laws to make ADUs more accessible and affordable to current homeowners is a strategic development. California is facing a housing crisis with a large, and growing homeless population. Housing costs are skyrocketing and low-cost housing is anything but low-cost for the state to build.

Opening up the option for previously single-family lots to become 2 and 3 family lots can obviously make a significant impact on the availability of housing throughout the state. Removing the requirement for the landowner to be living on the property to rent out the ADU also offers more financial stability through passive income options for financially vulnerable landowners. These new ADU laws encourage homeowners to invest and reap the benefits of improving housing options in California.

California’s New Laws

As of January 1st, 2020 the State of California has implemented updated ADU laws. These new laws are written to remove prohibitions on building ADUs and encourage landowners and developers to invest in ADUs on their property. Before this year, local laws and even HOA regulations often prohibited homeowners from building ADUs on principle or discouraged it with prohibitive fees and unreasonable regulations.

Less Resident Restrictions

The new laws open up the ease of getting an ADU built, and open up how many can exist on a property and who can live in them. Previously, the primary residence had to be lived in by the property owner for the ADU to be rented out. That is no longer required. Each property may include one JADU and one ADU for a total of 3 distinct living spaces per property that is zoned for single-family housing.

This means, for instance, that a landowning family member can ease living expenses for their relative’s families. Or an elderly landowner might move into the smaller ADU and rent out the larger residence to a younger family, offering the landowner passive income, and the family low-cost housing. The laws even lightened restrictions on old or previously unpermitted ADUs. Owner’s now have 5 years to bring a pre-existing ADU up to the codes that were in existence when the ADU was built.

Timely Processing

These new bills upend many of those county and city ordinances since they must bring their codes into compliance with the State’s laws encouraging ADUs. For instance, the state now requires local permitting of ADUs to be turned around within 60 days, unreasonable delays are not permissible. HOA’s, which commonly prohibited ADUs entirely, are no longer allowed to restrict them through regulation or prohibitive fees.

Limited Fees

The laws have limited fees too. ADUs that are smaller than 750 square feet cannot accrue impact fees, a common, often prohibitive cost that local jurisdictions add to address the impact more residents will have on current city services like schools, parks, and public transportation. Many lawmakers are realizing that rather than impact fees improving city infrastructure they are effectively killing all development of ADUs, a much-needed option for low-income housing.

Knowing Your Rights

It’s important for you, as the Pro, to know the basics about California’s new ADU laws. That way, if you come into contact with local officials or ordinances that aren’t in compliance, you know it isn’t the end of the discussion. County and City powers are allowed to develop their own ADU regulations, so long as they are in compliance with the larger State regulations.

All local regulations were required to come into compliance by January 1st of 2020, so everything should be well up to date. But, with the way the political mill works, there’s always a possibility that you’ll come into contact with a regulation or an individual who isn’t aware or in compliance with the changes.

ADUs and Your Business

It’s also important for you as a Pro to understand what these new regulations can mean for your business. Homeowners may not be aware of all their building options unless you educate them. Letting homeowners know the opportunities that ADUs can bring them (increased property value and potential income for instance) may just increase your project sales opportunities.

There are also a handful of grants and financial incentives that your clients may qualify for to build an ADU. Familiarize yourself with the local ADU regulations & financial incentives in the areas that you service so that you’re ready to talk your homeowners through their options. You can use this ADU Handbook, made available by the California Department of Housing and Community Development to start catching up on the new laws. You and the homeowners you work with can benefit from California’s new ADU laws.