Normally I try to keep the focus on my blog open so it benefits more people than just homeowners in California. But I have to break that for this post. California has approved a couple of laws that makes an accessory dwelling unit, more commonly known as a "granny unit" much easier to build. So if you are reading this outside of California - you can shake your head as you read about the hoops homeowners in California have to do just to add on to their home.
Before the law took effect, January 1, 2017, adding a 2nd living unit was done one of two ways. The 1st way (legal): The homeowner would contact their local planning department and ask about the requirements for a 2nd unit. You see it wasn't like it was outlawed in California - it is just that planning department & cities made it very hard to add a unit. The 2nd way (not so legal): The homeowner adds a studio (workshop) and later they would turn the workshop into a 2nd unit.
The reason why the homeowner might try the not so legal way is because when they contact the planning department they are shown a number of requirements and restrictions that make the idea prohibitive: The unit size would be limit to 400 to 680 sf ( not very large for the cost involved with the design and construction); off-street parking must be provided - usually (2) off street parking space and the driveway does not count; the house and 2nd unit can't exceed the maximum lot coverage; height restriction and lastly the fees for utilities hook-up as very expensive. Once this is all added up - the homeowner walks away thinking it is not worth the effort.
A pair of California laws change the rules: AB2299 and SB1069 redefine the "granny unit". It limits or eliminates some fo the local requirements that planning/cities put on homeowners. The main one is parking. Homeowners do not have to provide off-street parking for the Accessory Dwelling Unit. You still need to comply with the height limits of the unit and lot coverage for all structures on the properties - but those are easier and more direct to handle.
Local jurisdictions can still limit 2nd units based on water use and sewer - which in drought-stricken California that could be a major hurdle still. Though the recent rains could ease that restriction also. In recent months I have seen double of calls from homeowners asking about the law. These are the bleeding edge owners. They have been wanting to add a unit, for income or family needs, and see this as a chance to get it done.
Most jurisdictions are still working on their ordinances for the state law - which the law allows. But if they do not have it in place when the homeowner submits their permit - the local jurisdictions need to follow the more permissive state law.
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The immediate response will be there are a lot of homeowners who can now add a 2nd living unit for rental income or family needs then there was at the end of 2016. This is certainly good for my business. But I also agree with local planning department that some study and restrictions are needed so growth doesn't just explode willy-nilly in neighborhoods throughout California. Planning restrictions and ordinances are in place to preserve the look and feel of neighborhoods.
So if you are looking to add a 2nd living unit - now's the time to do it. Homeowners in California have more flexibility. It is still expensive to design and build here - but the economics of the addition was reduced a little bit by government.