Guest House, Granny Flat, Accessory Dwelling Unit… whatever you want to call it, I’ve been an advocate for decades for allowing property owners in Los Angeles to easily build additional units on their property to help take pressure off the local housing shortage. Sacramento got the clue recently and passed bills requiring local municipalities to allow the building of accessory dwelling units (ADU). Unfortunately Los Angeles and the local NIMBYs (not in my back yards) fought the state requirements, and made it difficult to build the units. That has changed. Now the new code requirements this year in Los Angeles make it easier to make the ADU.
The following is an outline of the ADU parameter revisions from Ken Meyer AIA, and architect associate of mine. Always feel free to contact me on the viability of adding the additional unit, and the market value of the unit to a specific property… Ron
The California State mandated law that allowed a second unit dwelling on an R-1 zoned lot is now once more available to homeowners in the City of Los Angeles
Homeowners and architects were frustrated that a law that was intended to create more living quarters throughout the state to ease the housing shortage in large metropolitan areas was being adhered to by city and county building agencies all around LA…but not in LA.
Well, with the New Year came new rules. Not only is Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) back to issuing Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) permits, but the state has also changed the section of the state code that sets the guidelines for ADU. And those guidelines are a lot more lenient then with the older code.
If you are not sure what makes a second unit dwelling different than, for instance, a stand-alone rec room, it is simple: Kitchens are not allowed and showers are not allowed in an accessory structure’s bathroom (unless the bathroom is for a permitted pool)…. but most important, an accessory dwelling unit is allowed to have its own kitchen and a full bath. With an ADU there is no running to the main residence to shower or cook meals.
Some of the most notable revisions in the new code:
Generally, building setbacks from rear and side property lines for garages are vastly different than those for living areas. Garages can and often are right up against the rear and/or side property line. The old code was such that if you wanted to convert a garage to an ADU or just a rec room, you could not if the garage was too close to a property line….or you would have to create “storage” (non-livable) areas along the walls adjacent to the property line. Now, the new state code prevents cities and counties from complicating the garage conversion. However, if you do add any square footage to the “too close to property line” garage as part of the conversion, then only the additional area has to adhere to the five foot setbacks.
Previously, if you wanted to create a second dwelling unit within the main residence, you were limited to 30% of the main house area to be used as the ADU. Now it’s 50%. A detached ADU is still limited to a maximum 1,200 sq ft. Most garages are about 400 sq ft. If there is space on the property to increase the floor area to something near the maximum 1,200 sq ft for an ADU, the return on the additional investment would be substantial.
The previous code was such that, in giving up the garage parking space which had been housing the two required car parking for the main residence, the owner had to create replacement covered parking for the displace autos. No more. You can park them in the open on the lot. Obviously, this is a huge break for the property owner. Additionally, when you partition off some the existing livable space in the main residence to create an ADU, you do no not have to provide additional parking.
The only problem that I can see that may prevent a property owner from converting a garage that is attached (or detached) to main residence and faces the front yard occurs in this situation: If somewhere along the frontage of residence/garage there is not at least a 9 feet clear width gap somewhere that leads to the rear of the property, then you cannot convert the garage. Since you cannot park the two displaced cars in the front yard setback, and there is no way to get to the back of the property – on at least a 9 foot wide driveway – to park the cars, a permit will not be allowed.
Again in the past, the owner had to create one additional covered parking spot for the ADU occupant. New code: A covered parking space is not required, and it’s even okay to park the ADU’s occupant’s auto in the front yard setback area. Normally – as I mentioned previously — the front yard is an area where parking is never allowed. Going one step farther, the new code states that if public transportation is less than ½ mile away, the owner of the parcel does not have to provide any parking for the occupant of the second unit.
What’s quirky about this new code is that if you were thinking of just changing the garage into a rec room or extra bedroom, it is now smarter to change it into second unit dwelling. Because you don’t have to replace the parking with a new covered garage or carport — which you would have to do if you only changed the garage into a rec room or guest room. You get a full bathroom and a kitchen whether you need it or not. And the property value is definitely increased.
No existing detached garage? Convert (with permits) the existing attached garage into living space (as long as you are within the maximum allowed residential square footage for your neighborhood’s zoning) and build a new detached garage that extends into the side and rear setbacks (again, depending on the zoning). Then later convert it to an ADU! Still, you cannot exceed the maximum allowed square footage for the parcel. As things now stand, that is all perfectly legal and per codes.
However, under the heading of just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do something. This analysis of the new code has been about adding an ADU to alleviate the housing shortage and improving property value. If there is room on the property to build a replacement attached or detached garage or carport, my recommendation is “do it.” A parcel without covered parking is going to adversely affect the property value.
This analysis of the revised code has been about giving over part of the existing primary residence to an ADU, or converting the existing detached garage to an ADU. The property owner can, of course, build a new ADU (up to 1,200 sq ft) from the ground up. However, in that instance the ADU has to adhere to local zoning codes regarding side and rear setbacks and the minimum separation from the main residence. Typical zoning codes for rear yard setback for dwelling structures range from 15 to 25 feet. Check your local zoning codes. In the city of Los Angeles, the minimum separation between structures on a lot is ten feet.
Bottom line: This new code is written more for the property owners and creation of more “homes” in a state where housing is at a premium, then for the city or county zoning and planning departments.
Some very critical caveats – aka, the small print: As things currently stand in the City of Los Angeles, there are no minimum lot size requirements. In LA County, the lot size must be at least 5,000 square feet in order to add a new ADU. Los Angeles City does have various codes and “specific area plans” which determine the maximum amount of square footage that is allowed for all the living areas on any one parcel. The size of the new ADU cannot when combined with the existing floor living areas, exceed that total allowed for all living areas per codes and zoning.
The most current standard residential building codes apply to all new or modified ADUs such as: R-30 roof insulation, R-19 wall insulation, as well as energy efficient windows, water heaters, air conditioners, etc., etc. per “Title 24.” The RDU must comply with State mandated “Green Codes.” Simply put, once a structure is modified (size or use) there is no “grandfathering.” Of course, any added “living area” will be reported to the County Assessor – and the property tax will increase accordingly. Additionally, increases in the living area within any parcel that is greater than 500 sq ft will trigger “school fees” (about $3.40 per sq ft). Finally, the ADU cannot be sold as a separate residence.
If you are in the Los Angeles area, have any questions or real estate sales or financing needs, feel free in contacting me.
Ron Henderson GRI, RECS, CIAS
Multi Real Estate Services, Inc.
Gov’t Affairs Chair – California Association of Mortgage Professionals
Specialist in the Art of Real Estate Sales and Finance
Real Estate market, mortgage rates, Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley, Conejo Valley, Simi Valley, Woodland Hills, West Hills, Calabasas, Chatsworth