California’s legislature has been busy coming up with solutions to the state’s widespread housing shortage. Their latest effort involves the growing trend of live/work units.

For someone who hates their commute, live/work units are the dream. In practice, they allow a business owner to live on the same property as their business. This is different from a home office situation, as live/work units involve a client-facing or street front component, while home offices generally limit interacting with clients to the phone or computer.

There are three types of live/work units:

  • live-with, when living and working occur in the same space;
  • live-near, when living and working are separated by a wall, floor or ceiling; and
  • live-nearby, when living and working occur on the same property but not necessarily in the same building, according to architect Thomas Dolan at com.

Due to their multi-purpose nature, regulations for building these units aren’t always clear. For example, do live/work units fall under commercial or residential zoning laws? Further, what sort of building codes apply — residential or commercial?

Recently passed, AB 565 directs California’s Department of Housing and Community Development to clarify portions of the California Building Code to clear up murkiness around constructing live-work units. The Department will need to make these clarifications to the Building Code at their next triennial building standards meeting, on or after January 1, 2019.

Live/work units tend to fall under the nebulous mixed-use zoning regulatory umbrella. Currently, local governments can choose what sort of rules to apply to live/work units. But no rules or building standards specific to live/work units exist at the state level.

This lack of state guidance leaves live/work units at the mercy of local not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) advocates. The hope is that with these new clarifications, more live/work units will have the opportunity to be constructed in the coming years.

Aside from simply constructing more housing, the aim of new guidance will also be to ensure live/work units are good for all involved. This includes the residents and nearby businesses who suddenly may have to deal with new types of neighbors. For instance, in the case of live/work units being construction in residential neighborhoods, will residents suddenly need to deal with delivery trucks? On the other hand, when a live/work unit goes up in a commercial or industrial district, will current businesses need to observe residential quiet hours?

Without proper guidance, local governments are more likely to simply ban live/work units or look the other way when these types of units pop up, resulting in a less safe and enjoyable environment. Clarifications will lead to more building and, hopefully, fewer commutes.