Understanding of California's ADU Laws in 2020

Understanding California's ADU Laws in 2020

What does California's new 2020 ADU laws mean for homeowners?

Why ADUs?

The state of California has recognized a drastic shortfall of affordable housing. Housing prices are climbing, and housing supply is lacking in job-rich and transit focused areas. Longer commutes are an issue for both environmentalists, and the quality of life for many Californians.

California sees ADUs as an efficient solution to this crisis, allowing a greater density of the housing supply to exist within already established infrastructure, while minimizing societal costs. Accessory Dwelling Units address common development barriers, such as initial capital requirement and environmental considerations, as well as the ability to retain the neighborhood architectural characteristics. A study in 2019 found that one unit of affordable housing in the Bay Area costs about $450,000. ADUs can be built for much less, and utilize existing infrastructure. Most ADUs are constructed with wooden frames, which lead to lower investment costs. Rent charged can reimburse the homeowner in simply a matter of years. To incentivize homeowners, the fees and regulations for ADUs have been relaxed. For some ADUs, impact and other associated fees are removed entirely. This article will summarize the California Department of Housing and Community Development's Recent Handout, answer some key questions, and highlight the overall changes that have occurred with 2020 legislation.

What are the laws in my area, and what can my local municipality legislate?

The New State Law requires municipalities and their codes to comply with the state of California. There are mandatory minimums that each municipality must allow, but beyond that, municipalities are free to create less stringent laws. Many Cities currently have their own version of the 2020 state laws already enacted, but codes that are currently not in compliance with the state laws are null and void. Should a local government choose not to adopt an ADU ordinance, the proposed ADU development would be subject to standards set in state law.

The only basis on which a municipality may deny an ADU are those that are subject to the adequacy of water and sewer services, and areas that may be negatively affected by traffic flow and public safety. Some examples of these places would be severe fire hazard zones, and areas with inadequate water and sewer service that include cease and desist orders. Areas that cite traffic concerns should consider the lower car ownership rates for ADU inhabitants, and their proximity to public transit. ADUs otherwise must be considered in any residential or mixed-use zone.

Does my HOA have any say?

In short, no. Assembly Bill 670 amended section 4751 of the Civil Code to preclude Planned Developments from prohibiting or otherwise unreasonably restricting the construction of an ADU. CC&Rs (Covenants, conditions, and restrictions) that reasonably restrict an ADU or JADU on lots zoned for Single Family lots are void and unenforceable. Anyone who encounters issues with the creation of ADUs within CC&Rs are encouraged to reach out to HCD (California Department of Housing and Community Development)

What if I’m in a coastal zone?

ADU laws still apply in jurisdictions located within the Coastal Zone (Areas located within a designated area by the California Coastal Commission that typically require additional regulations), however, they do not necessarily alter or lessen the application of the Coastal Act resource protection policies. Municipalities are encouraged to amend Local Coastal Programs for California Coastal Commission review to comply with both the act as well as the new ADU laws. Those in Coastal Zones may still be required to obtain a Coastal permit.

What size is allowed?

New ADU state law prevents Municipalities from denying ADUs less than 850 square feet, or 1,000 if it contains more than one bedroom. State law outlines what is referred to as a “Statewide Exemption ADU”, which is an ADU that is up to 800 square feet, 16 feet in height, with 4 food side and rear yard setbacks. There are no ordinances that can preclude the construction of this unit, such as limits on lot coverage, floor area ratio, open space, or minimum lot size.

Local governments can establish minimum and maximum unit size requirements for both attached and detached ADUs, but this maximum size can be no smaller than 850 square feet, and 1,000 square feet for ADUs with more than one bedroom. For agencies that don’t adopt an ordinance, maximum unit sizes are 1,200 square feet for a new detached ADU and up to 50 percent of the floor area of the existing primary dwelling for an attached ADU (at least 800 square feet)

Is Parking Required?

As parking requirements generally prohibit much development in California, State law does not establish a minimum amount of parking spaces, but allows local agencies to require at least one parking space per unit or bedroom, whichever is less. This space may be provided tandem parking on a driveway.

Units that convert or demolish a garage, carport or covered parking structure in conjunction with an ADU are not required to provide replacement parking for the demolished or converted space. Units may be unilaterally exempt from parking requirements if they are any of the following: Located within one half mile walking distance of public transit, located within an architecturally and historically significant historic district, converted from part of the proposed or existing primary residence or accessory structure, when on street parking permits are required but not offered to the occupant of the ADU, or when there is a car shar vehicle located within one block of the ADU.

Other Requirements?

Agencies may impose any type of setback (Front, corner, street, and alley) in accordance with their code. They may also require utility easements, as well as setbacks for coastal zones if required for the program. Setbacks however may in no case unduly constrain the creation of ADUs and cannot be required for ADUs that are converted from existing space. The state also requires that side and rear setbacks be no more than 4 feet. Front setbacks may still apply for ADUs, but these setbacks cannot preclude a Statewide Exemption ADU on the property and must not unduly constrain the creation of any type of ADUs.

ADUs must be allowed at least 16 feet in height, but there is no statewide requirement on stories. There is also no statewide requirement on the number of bedrooms in an ADU. Fire sprinklers are not required, unless required for the primary residence. New construction, non-manufactured, detached ADUs are subject to the Energy Code Requirement, and must provide solar panels. ADUs that are converted from existing space are not required to provide solar panels.

Multifamily Properties

Properties which are designated for Multifamily uses are also eligible for ADUs. They share many of the same requirements and limitations, but Multifamily properties can be eligible for more than one ADU on the lot. Multifamily units are eligible for at least one ADU that is converted from non-living space, and up to 25% of the total number of multifamily units currently on the lot. They also are eligible for at least one and up to two detached units, granting that they meet the 16 foot height limit as well as the 4 foot setbacks.

What kind of Fees Apply?

ADUs less than 750 square feet in size are exempt from impact fees from local agencies, special districts, and water corporations. If the ADU is larger than 750 square feet, they may be charged proportionately in relation to the square footage of the Primary dwelling unit. Local Agencies may however decide to waive any fees for ADUs entirely. Some fees may still apply, however. School districts may choose to levy impact fees for ADUs greater than 500 square feet, and new construction ADUs inquire sewer and connection fees. State law does not cover monthly charge fees

Key Takeaways for what has changed in 2020

  • *Local agencies may now ONLY designate areas based on the criteria of water & sewer capacity, traffic flow and public safety. Local agencies that do not provide water or sewer services shall consult with the local water or sewer service provider regarding the adequacy of water and sewer services before establishing an ordinance.
  • *Lot coverage standards may no longer be applicable
  • *This legislation has expanded to Multifamily dwellings
  • *Setbacks are reduced from 5 feet to 4 feet
  • *Off Street parking is no longer required to be replaced when a garage/carport is demolished or converted into an ADU.
  • *Parking is not necessarily required, but agencies may elect to adopt a requirement of up to one parking space.
  • *Permits must be approved ministerially within 60 days, instead of 120.
  • *Establishment of a “Statewide Exemption ADU” that cannot be denied
  • *Owner Occupancy cannot be required
  • *Allowed in Historic Areas
  • *Multifamily properties may have one and up to two detached units
  • *No physical improvements are required for the creation or conversion of an ADU. (Example, an applicant shall not be required to improve sidewalks, carry out street improvements, or access improvements to create an ADU
  • *Utility connections are only charged when an ADU is constructed alongside a new primary residence
  • See the chart below to get an idea of what ADU type is allowed in your zoning area. Keep in mind, your city may have less stringent regulations for ADUs, but these are the state minimums/maximums!

    More questions? Request a free property report and see what your zoning is, and if you're eligible for an ADU!