Are Granny Flats Part of the Answer to Our State’s Housing Crisis?

A stand-alone accessory unit behind the primary unit. Image courtesy of the American Planning Association

A stand-alone accessory unit behind the primary unit. Image courtesy of the American Planning Association

Unaffordable home prices and a critical housing shortage have resulted in a housing crisis that plagues many California residents. In the most recent state legislative session, legislators responded by easing requirements on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), residential units in homeowners’ backyards often referred to as “granny flats.” The changes to the law are expected to spur development of additional housing units as homeowners build new granny flats and make them available for rent.

Many local governments either have never adopted an ADU ordinance or have imposed requirements making it difficult for homeowners to add a second unit. Recently, three laws passed to relax ADU requirements:

  • AB 2299 requires local governments to approve ADUs if requirements set forth in their ordinance are met. This bill also removes a local government’s ability to impose parking requirements in excess of one parking space per bedroom.
  • SB 1069 reduces barriers to the construction and permitting of ADUs by eliminating additional utility connection requirements and fees. In addition, certain parking requirements are waived if the ADU is built within ½ a mile of public transit or as part of a primary dwelling unit. Local governments that have not adopted an ordinance must approve applications in accordance with applicable regulations.
  • AB 2406 creates a simple permitting process for units known as Junior Accessory Dwelling Units (JADU). An alternative to ADUs, JADUs are less than 500 square feet and contained entirely within an existing single-family structure.

All three laws recognize the benefits of ADUs and ease construction of the units by creating standards for approval. Opponents to the legislation argue that these laws eliminate the power of local governments to regulate ADUs and may ultimately detract from the character of communities. Nonetheless, the laws appear to be a meaningful attempt to address California’s severe lack of affordable housing.

Written by Tara Matthews, a Principal at RSG