If you’ve ever had a custom home built or had to struggle through home renovation permits and regulations, then you know the State of California is tough on builders. From environmental protection laws to property line spacing to Fire Marshall guidelines, just to legal ramifications of a new building can be intimidating. However, with the shortage of housing in California and the desperate need for affordable housing, the Golden State has made some serious strides in accommodating families by loosening the restrictions for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) statewide. Here are the 12 most important 2020 ADU rule changes for California that you need to know about.

  1. As of January 1, 2020, the State of California created a complete new set of laws pertaining to ADUs (also known as granny units, prefab homes, backyard homes, and casitas). While many laws mean more rules to follow and lots of red tape, this surprisingly does the opposite! Cities and counties are allowed to write their own rules, but they must comply with the new rules set by the state.
  2. Before these changes, ADUs were permitted only on larger lots. Now, ADUs can be 800 square feet and up to 16 feet tall and the local government can’t block the new build. 
  3. When you apply to build an ADU, it will be considered approved (not just subject to ministerial approval) if the local agency has not acted on the completed application within 60 days. No more long waiting times to get approval from an overburdened system! This is in accordance with the maximum ADU and JADU application review time reducing from 120 days to 60 days!
  4. Now you don’t have to worry about owner occupancy requirements until 2025! This means that you can rent your home AND your ADU unit for additional income. 
  5. AB 671 requires local agencies’ housing elements to include a plan that incentivizes and promotes the creation of ADUs that can offer affordable rents for very low, low-, or moderate-income households and requires HCD  California Department of Housing and Community Development) to develop a list of state grants and financial incentives in connection with the planning, construction and operation of affordable ADUs. This means that not only are they allowing more ADUs, but they’re encouraging it and offering money to help with expenses in certain areas.
  6. If you turned your garage into an additional living space or added square footage to your home, you can STILL add a granny unit to your backyard. Previously, this was not allowed.
  7. ADUs up to 750 square feet are exempt from impact fees. Impact fees are typically a one-time fee that the property owner would pay to cover roads, public safety facilities, schools, parks, and wastewater facilities that would be needed to accommodate the additional residents. ADUs that are 750 square feet or larger may be charged impact fees proportional in size (by square foot) to those for the primary dwelling unit. 
  8. If you live in a community with a HOA(Home Owners Associations), then you understand that they have strict standards that include backyard structures. Usually there are clearly outlined rules that state the size and height permitted by the HOA. However, with these new state laws, HOAs and property CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions) can reasonably prohibit development of an ADU or JADU (Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit). 
  9. AB 670 states that covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) that either effectively prohibit or unreasonably restrict the construction or use of an ADU or JADU on a lot zoned for single-family residential use are void and unenforceable. 
  10. If you have an ADU on your property that wasn’t previously permitted, you now have five years to rectify this problem to avoid being penalized.

So what are some other facts that you need to know about California state laws and ADUs?

  • While ADUs are allowed to be built in many communities, there are a few limitations. For example, the adequacy of water and sewer service and the impacts on traffic flow and public safety are a few reasons why an ADU may not be allowed in specific areas.
  • If you live in a California Register of Historic Resources district, you may have guidelines that your ADU may need to follow. Height, setback, landscape, architectural review, and maximum size of a unit may need to be reviewed. However, there are ways to object to this criteria and still build your ADU depending on your community since state ADU law allows that these standards do not apply to ADUs proposed pursuant to Government Code section 65852.2, subdivision (e).
  •  There is no minimum lot size requirement. As stated by the HCD ADU handbook, “While local governments may impose standards on ADUs, these standards shall not include minimum lot size requirements. Further, lot coverage requirements cannot preclude the creation of a statewide exemption ADU (800 square feet ADU with a height limitation of 16 feet and 4 feet side and rear yard setbacks). If lot coverage requirements do not allow such an ADU, an automatic exception or waiver should be given to appropriate development standards such as lot coverage, floor area or open space requirements. Local governments may continue to enforce building and health and safety standards and may consider design, landscape, and other standards to facilitate compatibility. 
  • ADU sizes can get a little confusing. If you have an existing structure like a barn that you want to convert into a living space, there isn’t a maximum size. Certain local governments can put limits allowing 850 square feet to be the maximum size of a new structure without a bedroom or 1,000 square feet with one bedroom. Check with your builder or local government to determine your guidelines.

We know, state laws and regulations can be extremely confusing. Do you have questions about whether your lot can house an ADU or how to get permits and city approval? Call ADU Warehouse today! We have a team of experts that know about community regulations, building permits, and more so that you can have peace of mind when building your ADU. Building any structure is an investment and you need to ensure that everything is done appropriately and in conjunction with the law. We’re here to help you with every step of the process!

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