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New California Laws Will Make It Easier To Build Granny Flats

A backyard "granny flat" in San Diego

Several new laws in effect this month make it easier for Californians to build granny flats, also known as accessory dwelling units or ADUs, on their property. 

They add to recent efforts by lawmakers to promote the small structures, which offer a living space for extended family or renters and can be attached or separate from a property’s main residence. 

Notable among the new laws is Assembly Bill 68 by Asm. Phil Ting, D-San Francisco. It encourages cities and counties to approve more ADUs by streamlining their review process. It limits their ability to reject structures less than 850 square feet, thus allowing for smaller units. 

The new law also moves up the timeline to approve ADU applications from 120 days to 60 days. Assembly Bill 69, also by Ting, develops a building code standard for the small structures.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 13, by Sen. Bob Wiekowski, D-Fremont, prohibits local governments from imposing an “owner-occupant requirement.” That means the owner of the property applying to build an ADU won’t have to live at the property. It also reduces the fees required to build the units.

Researchers estimate California needs more than 3 million new housing units by 2025 to meet demand. Housing advocates say the new laws will help boost supply. 

“As you start to sprinkle these things throughout neighborhoods, you can start to put a pretty big dent in the housing shortage at least at the local level,” said Matthew Lewis, a spokesman for California YIMBY, which stands for Yes In My Backyard. “ADUs are not going to solve the housing crisis. Nobody’s under the illusion that they do that on their own.” 

Still, Lewis said, the small structures are becoming popular with homeowners who want to make more use of their property. 

“After the state relaxed some barriers to ADU construction in 2017, there was an immediate boost to their numbers,” Ting added in a news release last year. “Los Angeles, for example, has approved more than 10,500 ADUs since the change, compared to only a few hundred ADUs in years prior.”

Those changes also inspired Sacramento homeowner Dov Kadin. After buying a home with his fiancée on a long, skinny lot in the city’s Oak Park neighborhood, he decided to build a second, smaller unit and rent it out. 

“It was for us about both making that good financial investment while also doing something that we felt was helping the community,” Kadin said. 

He said adding a moderately priced home to the area’s supply was part of the motivation. 

His new unit is 820 square feet and includes two bedrooms and one bathroom. Kadin said he’ll use the rent to pay off the cost to build the ADU in about two years. 

“We need all types of housing at every level, every different type in California,” Kadin said. “This is, I think, a really interesting part of it because we have so many single-family homes across the state and there’s a lot of people sitting on equity that have the resources to be able to do this. So, yeah, I think this is a piece of the puzzle.” 

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