Are accessory dwelling units (ADUs) the answer to all of California’s housing problems?

Probably not all of its problems, but California lawmakers have seriously caught the ADU bug in recent years, doing their best to clear the path for more ADUs wherever homeowners want to build them.

Historically, these additional units in single family zoned locations were called granny flats or casitas, or just garage apartments. Today, most all SFR zoning has been converted to duplex or fourplex zoned property by the state, an activity preempting local ordinances.

Assembly Bill 976 takes effect on January 1, 2024 to increase ADU options for California homeowners and renters. [Calif. Government Code §65852.2]

In 2022, a statewide law was passed to prohibit owner-occupancy requirements for ADUs built prior to 2020 or after 2025. Now, owner-occupancy requirements are prohibited for all ADUs, no matter their age.

The new law also clarifies existing legislation which authorizes local governments to require ADU rentals be for terms of 30 days or longer. Previously, the law’s muddled language authorized rental terms for longer than 30 days. [Calif. Government Code §658522(a)(8)]

Related client info letter:

Client Q&A: What is an ADU and how do I build one?


ADU, the wealth builder

AB 976 is the latest in a long line of pro-ADU legislation to make its mark on California’s anemic housing landscape.

ADUs benefit local housing markets by:

  • allowing homeowners to build wealth by becoming landlords;
  • increasing the local housing supply; and
  • offering a cost-effective option for renters.

In just the last couple of years, legislatures have prohibited ADU permits from being rejected due to local agency procedural items, like:

  • ADU parking standards;
  • nonconforming zoning;
  • front setback limits;
  • fire sprinkler requirements; and
  • height restrictions when the lot is located near public transit or on a lot with existing multi-family units.

Since red tape is one of the biggest obstacles to ADU construction, simply removing more barriers for issuing permits ought to result in more organic growth where demand is present (read: everywhere in California).

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