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NEW California ADU Laws in 2020: What You Need to Know

“. . . the new laws are intended to address the ongoing housing crisis and to make ADU development easier. . .”

New ADU laws that take effect January 1, 2020 will make ADU development easier. ADU is the acronym for Accessory Dwelling Unit; as the name suggests, this type of small dwelling is an accessory to (additional to) a main home in a single family residential area. ADUs are inter-generational housing that were historically called “granny units” because they were generally built for aging parents to enable them to live with their children while retaining the privacy of their own dwelling. ADUs were rare prior to 2017 because modern planning codes rendered this type of structure illegal or difficult and expensive to get built. Additional parking was typically required as were very expensive, independent utility connections from the street to the ADU. 

 In 2017, due to years of work by community activists, the State of California passed a series of laws -  SB 1069  (Wieckowski), AB 2299  (Bloom), and AB 2406  (Thurmond) - to make the creation of ADUs easier. The most fundamental and important of these laws was (and remains today) the law eliminating the requirement for additional parking for ADUs (provided the site is within a mile of public transit). Other important laws passed in 2017 included making it illegal to require ADUs to have separate utility connections. These state laws have led to a boom in construction of ADUs throughout California.

Community activists continued campaigning after the initial laws passed and this year the state legislature passed a series of laws under AB 68 that will take effect January 1, 2020. Those laws include Assembly Bill (AB 881), Assembly Bill (AB 670), Senate Bill 13 (SB 13), and Assembly Bill 68 (AB 68). The new laws are intended to address the ongoing housing crisis and to make ADU development easier. We list the five main aspects of new ADU law here that support getting ADUs built.

It is important to understand that all jurisdictions can create more lenient or liberal ordinances allowing owners to create ADUs that are larger and taller than the State minimum. Jurisdictions like San Mateo County, for example, allow for two-story ADUs. When putting together your ADU project plan, be sure to check with your local jurisdiction for ordinances that support ADU construction.

If you are interested in exploring how you can build an ADU on your property, Todd Jersey Architecture has been designing ADUs throughout the Bay Area and can guide you on the best type of project to maximize your investment. Email us or give us a call to set up your free project assessment. You can also sign up for our newsletter to receive ongoing updates about ADUs and other architecture related news.

 

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1. No minimum lot sizes for ADUs

NO JURISDICTION CAN REQUIRE A MINIMUM LOT SIZE TO BUILD AND ADU. SOME CITIES AND COUNTIES, LIKE PASADENA, CA AT THE WRITING OF THIS ARTICLE, REQUIRE A MINIMUM SIZE OF LOT IN ORDER FOR AN OWNER TO BUILD AND ADU. FOR INSTANCE IF THE MINIMUM LOT SIZE IS 5,000SF AND YOUR LOT IS 3,000SF, CITIES CAN DENY YOU THE ABILITY OR RIGHT TO CREATE AND ADU

 2. No restrictions on the size of ADUs

THIS NEW LAW RESTRICTS THE ABILITY OF CITY AND COUNTY PERMIT BUREAUS TO LIMIT THE SIZE OF AN ADU BASED UPON CRITERIA LIKE HEIGHT RESTRICTIONS, RESTRICTIONS ON LOT COVERAGE OR RESTRICTIONS ON WHAT IS CALLED THE FLOOR AREA RATIO OR FAR.  THE STATE HAS INTERVENED TO CREATE STATE GUIDELINES ON SIZES OF ADU'S WHICH SUPERCEDE LOCAL ORDINANCES. THE NEW LAW STATES THAT AS LONG AS THE ADU IS BELOW 800SF FOR A ONE BEDROOM UNIT OR UNDER 1,000SF FOR TWO BEDROOM UNITS AND, AS LONG AS THE ADU IS SET BACK FROM ALL PROPERTY LINES BY AT LEAST 4 FEET AND BUILT WITHIN A 16 FOOT HEIGHT LIMIT, THEN A HOMEOWNER CAN BUILD THE SIZE OF THE ADU THAT THEY WISH.

 3. Expediting approval time for ADUs

THIS NEW LAW REQUIRES COUNTY AND CITY PLANNING AND BUILDING DEPARTMENTS TO TAKE NO LONGER THAN 60 DAYS TO APPROVE (OR DENY) A PERMIT FOR ALL ADU'S. IN THE GREATER SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA THIS IS A WONDERFUL DEVELOPMENT FOR THOSE HOPING TO BUILD AN ADU IN A TIMELY MANNER BECAUSE ALL BAY AREA JURISDICTIONS TYPICALLY TAKE FAR LONGER TO ISSUE BUILDING PERMITS FOR EVEN THE SIMPLEST PROJECTS.

 4. Garage conversions made easy

THE NEW LAW STATES THAT OWNERS MAY NOW PLACE ADUS INTO EXISTING GARAGES WITHOUT BEING REQUIRED TO REPLACE THE PARKING SPACE IN THE EXISTING GARAGE ON ANOTHER PART OF THE SITE. THIS LAW PROMISES TO LEAD TO A LARGE NUMBER OF ADUS BEING BUILT IN EXISTING GARAGES, ONE OF THE MORE AFFORDABLE WAYS TO CREATE ADUS

 5. No additional utility fees

THIS LAW STATES THE ADUS CANNOT BE BURDENED WITH ADDITIONAL UTILITY FEES OF ANY KIND

6. No owner-occupancy requirement

THE OWNER OF THE PROPERTY DOES NOT TO LIVE IN THE PRIMARY RESIDENCE OR THE ADU.

Accessory Dwelling Units and "Triplexes"

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) are additional living quarters on the same lot as a primary dwelling unit. While California laws have paved the way for increased ADU development, some cities have enacted ordinances that render ADU development infeasible or cost prohibitive. By further reducing barriers to ADU development, the new bills discussed below could bring tens of thousands of new ADUs online over the next few years.

AB 68 (Assembly Member Phil Ting) / AB 881 (Assembly Member Richard Bloom) – Processing Timelines, Ordinance Prohibitions and Triplexes requires local agencies to either approve or deny an ADU project within 60 days of receiving a complete building permit application on a ministerial (CEQA-exempt) basis. The new law further prohibits local agencies from adopting ADU ordinances that: impose minimum lot size requirements for ADUs; set certain maximum ADU dimensions; require replacement off-street parking when a "garage, carport or covered parking structure" is demolished or converted to construct the ADU. Notably, the new law allows for an ADU as well as a "junior" ADUs where certain access, setback and other criteria are met – this has been referred to the "tripelex-ation" of single-family zoning. The new law has also explicitly identified opportunities for ADUs in multifamily buildings, including storage rooms, boiler rooms, etc., where building standards are met. New enforcement mechanisms have also been added. The Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) may now notify the Attorney General's Office of any violations of these new provisions.

SB 13 (Sen. Bob Wieckowski) – Owner-Occupancy Prohibitions and Fee Limitations provides, until Jan. 1, 2025, that cities may not condition approval of ADU building permit applications on the applicant being the "owner-applicant" of either the primary dwelling or the ADU. Additionally, agencies cannot impose impact fees on ADUs under 750 square feet.

AB 587 (Friedman) – Separate Conveyances provides that local agencies may now allow ADUs to be sold or conveyed separately from a primary residence if certain conditions are met. Prior law that prohibited ADUs from being sold or conveyed separately from the primary residence in which they are co-located hindered shared ownership models, such as tenancies in common. This law, therefore, is expected to increase the ability of affordable housing organizations to sell deed-restricted ADUs to eligible low-income homeowners.

AB 670 (Friedman) – HOA Limitations prevents homeowners' associations from barring ADUs. Many single-family neighborhoods in California were established as common-interest developments under the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act. These properties are typically governed by a set of Covenant, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs), which often restrict the types of construction that can occur within and adjacent to a member's home. AB 670 makes unlawful any HOA condition that "prohibits or unreasonably restricts" the construction of ADUs on single-family residential lots.

AB 671 (Friedman) – Local Government Assistance requires local governments to include in their General Plan housing elements plans to incentivize and promote the creation of affordable ADUs. The law also requires HCD to develop, by Dec. 31, 2020, a list of state grants and financial incentives for ADU development.

Surplus Land Availability, Planning and Impact Fee Data

Several new laws intend to collect and make information available regarding surplus state and local land suitable for affordable residential development and to revamp the Surplus Lands Act procedures to ensure that affordable housing entities have early opportunities to purchase available land. (For additional information on HCD's release of interactive maps identifying surplus properties, see Holland & Knight's previous alert, "New California Surplus Lands Maps and Legislation to Facilitate Affordable Housing," Sept. 17, 2019.) Other notable laws require reporting on impact fees and HCD to prepare a 10-year housing data strategy.

AB 1486 (Ting) – Surplus Lands Act Process Amendments expands the Surplus Lands Act's (Act) requirements for local agencies in an effort to achieve more affordable housing on surplus properties. Existing law requires agencies, when disposing of surplus land, to first offer it for sale or lease for the purpose of developing affordable housing. The bill analysis states that local agencies have attempted to circumvent the Act process in the past. Notable amendments include a new requirement for a local agency to provide information about its disposition process to HCD and for HCD to submit, within 30 days, written findings of any process violations that have occurred. Amendments also provide that a local agency that violates the Act is liable for 30 percent to 50 percent of the final sale price.

SB 6 (Sen. James Beall) – Available Residential Land requires local agencies preparing a housing element or amendment on or after Jan. 1, 2021, to submit an inventory of land suitable residential development. Additionally, new law requires HCD to provide to the Department of General Services a list of lands suitable and available for residential development that were identified by a local government as part of the housing element. The Department of General Services must create a database of information regarding available local and state lands available and searchable by the public online.

AB 1255 (Rivas) – Surplus Public Land Inventory further requires agencies to make a central inventory of all surplus land and to report such information to HCD by April 1 of each year, beginning April 1, 2021. Agencies are further required to provide a list of its surplus land to requesting parties without charge. HCD must then report the information to the Department of General Services for inclusion in a digitized inventory or surplus properties.

AB 1483 (Assembly Member Tim Grayson) – Housing Impact Fee Data Collection and Reporting requires local agencies to make information available on housing development fees, applicable zoning ordinances and standards, annual fee reports and archived nexus fee studies. Such agencies are then required to update the information within 30 days of any changes. Additionally,HCD will be required, on or after Jan. 1, 2020, to prepare a 10-year housing data strategy that identifies the data useful to enforce existing housing laws and inform state housing policymaking. Among other information requirements, the strategy must include information that provides a better understanding of project appeals, approvals, delays and denials and provides an understanding of the process, certainty, costs and time to approve housing.

SB 235 (Sen. Bill Dodd) – Napa Regional Housing Need Allocation Reporting allows the City of Napa (city) and County of Napa (county) to reach an agreement under which the county would be allowed to count housing units built within the city in connection with the approximately 700 unit Napa Pipe project toward the county's regional housing needs assessment requirement. The governor's signing statement included an unusually direct message that the governor "expects permits will be issued expeditiously by the local jurisdictions, allowing [the] project to proceed immediately."

CEQA and Housing

Legislative efforts regarding CEQA include an important revision broadened the definition of a major transit stop as well as streamlining the process for supportive housing and homeless shelter projects.

AB 1560 (Friedman)  Defining "major transit stop" broadens the definition of a "major transit stop" under Public Resources Code Section 21064.3 to include bus rapid transit. Projects located within a half-mile of a qualifying bus rapid transit stop that meet other qualifying conditions may qualify for multiple benefits: parking reductions pursuant to the State Density Bonus Law; CEQA infill housing, aesthetic and parking exemptions; SB 375 streamlining for qualifying transit priority projects; a less than significant Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) impact presumption. The new definition also applies to local incentives, such as those adopted per Measure JJJ and implemented in the City of Los Angeles' Transit Oriented Guidelines, for residential projects located within 1,500 feet of a major transit stop.

SB 744 (Sen. Anna Caballero) – No Place Like Home Projects streamlines the approval process for supportive housing projects by clarifying that a decision to seek funding through the No Place Like Home program is not a project for the purpose of CEQA. No Place Like Home is a voter-approved bond measure that will allocate up to $2 billion for the development of permanent supportive housing and wrap around mental health services. The new law also provides a number of clarifying amendments that ensures a local government's design standards, impact fees and exactions are applied similarly to supportive housing projects as other residential projects in the same zone.

AB 1197 (Assembly Member Miguel Santiago) – CEQA Exemption for Supportive Housing and Emergency Shelters exempts from CEQA, until Jan. 1, 2025, any action taken by certain local public agencies to convey, lease, encumber land or provide financial assistance in furtherance of providing emergency shelters or supportive housing in the City of Los Angeles. The legislation carried an urgency clause, making the new law effective on Sept. 26, 2019.

Funding

Hopes of a return to Redevelopment Authority days were dashed when Gov. Newsom vetoed SB 5 (Beall), which would have created the "Affordable Housing and Community Development Investment Program,"a program similar to redevelopment in which cities and counties could redirect local property tax revenues toward projects such as affordable housing. In his veto message, Gov. Newsom cited the potential for the program to cost $2 billion annually. The governor and Legislature did, however, successfully enact into law a number of bills aimed at increasing overall funding for housing development, including laws that will create new regional finance agencies in the Bay Area and the San Gabriel Valley. Such housing bills include:

AB 1487 (Chiu)  Bay Area Housing Finance Authority (BAHFA) establishes a new regional authority to raise, administer and allocate funding for affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay area, and provide technical assistance at a regional level for tenant protection, affordable housing preservation and new affordable housing production. BAHFA will be governed by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) Board and staffed with MTC personnel, but will operate as a separate legal entity than MTC. The law permits BAHFA, with approval from the Association of Bay Area Governments, to place measures on the regional ballot measure to raise funding for affordable housing, including parcel taxes (on per parcel basis) or special taxes on businesses (measured by gross receipts).

SB 751 (Sen. Susan Rubio)  San Gabriel Valley Regional Housing Trust (Trust) authorizes the creation of the Trust, a joint powers authority, by the County of Los Angeles and any or all of the cities within the jurisdiction of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, with the stated purpose of funding housing to assist the homeless population and persons and families of extremely low, very low and low income within the San Gabriel Valley. SB 751 authorizes the Trust to fund the planning and construction of housing, receive public and private financing and funds, and issue bonds.

AB 116 (Ting) – Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District Creation removes the requirement that Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts (EIFDs) must receive voter approval prior to issuing bonds. EIFDs were created by the Legislature in 2014 after the demise of redevelopment in order to allow local governments to devote tax-increment financing for public and private projects such as transportation facilities, environmental remediation and affordable housing. Instead of requiring voter approval, the law will now permit the EIFD's governing body to issue bonds as long as its resolution to do so contains specified information related to the issuance of the bonds, and the board holds at least three public hearings on an enhanced infrastructure financing plan. (For more information on EIFDs and related infrastructure financing mechanisms that could assist your project, see Holland & Knight's previous alerts, "Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts," Nov. 12, 2014, and "What's Old, What's New and What Works," October 2016.)

SB 196 (Beall) – Community Land Trust Tax Exemption enacts a new welfare exemption for property owned by a Community Land Trust (CLT) that is being or will be developed or rehabilitated as housing. Traditionally, under California law property used for religious, hospital, scientific or charitable purposes is exempt from property taxes under the "welfare exemption." The new legislation extends the exemption during the construction phase until the homes are sold, but provides that a CLT will be liable for property taxes if the property was not developed, rehabilitated, or in the course of construction within 5 years of the lien date following its acquisition.

AB 1743 (Bloom) – Welfare Exemption expands the properties that are exempt from Community Facilities District (CFD) taxes to include properties that qualify for the property tax welfare exemption, and limits the ability of local agencies to reject housing projects because they qualify for the exemption.

SB 113 (Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review) – National Mortgage Special Deposit Fund (Fund) enables $331 million in state funds to be transferred to the Fund to provide funding for borrower relief and legal aid to vulnerable homeowners and renters.

AB 1010 (Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia) – Housing Program Eligible Entities allows duly constituted governing bodies of Native American reservations and Rancherias eligible applicants to participate in various state affordable housing programs.

Conclusion

The Legislature's housing output is certainly impressive in terms of total volume – and the new ADU package and SB 330 are important steps forward for homebuilders and housing advocates alike. But it is important to put these efforts within the context of the immense scale of California's housing supply crisis.

California home values remain the highest in the nation, and California renters pay 43 percent above the nationwide median, leading to immense strain on low- to moderate-income households. The homelessness crisis is evident on the streets of every city, and the state's homeless residents represent a quarter of the national total. Yet homebuilding in California has averaged less than 100,000 new units per year, much slower than in other states.

Prompted by the important work of the "Three P's" Coalition for Housing Production, Protection and Preservation, the governor pushed for a major effort that would take dramatic steps forward on all three of these areas, by limiting the ability of local governments to obstruct housing development, and even promising to withhold state transportation funding from local governments that fail to approve their fair share of affordable housing.

In the end, the Legislature's statewide rent control bill represented an historic step forward for "Protection" and "Preservation." But laws that would have represented a comparably dramatic step forward for housing production, such as Sen. Scott Wiener's SB 50, were not enacted. (SB 50, which will return next session, would eliminate highly restrictive zoning rules near existing job centers and public transportation.) The governor abandoned his proposal to withhold transportation funds from local governments that fail to meet their fair share of housing goals. Meanwhile, midyear statistics show that 2019 new housing starts may even decline in production from prior years – and certainly will come nowhere near the 500,000 units annually that would be necessary to stay on pace to meet the administration's goals.

In this year's package of housing laws, the Legislature has continued emphasizing (as seen in AB 68, AB 881, AB 101, AB 1485, SB 744, AB 1197, AB 1763 and AB 430) that it believes that the best way to build housing is to reform and streamline the local review process and move toward a "by right" model for housing that complies with local zoning and planning rules. However, the Legislature continues to apply this principle on a very limited scale rather than to advance the construction of the 3.5 million homes that Gov. Newsom has said must be built by 2025. In next year's session, builders and housing advocates must be active and vocal to ensure that California rises to the challenge of the housing crisis.