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4 min read

Home Accessory Unit: What is an ADU?


In January of 2017, a new California state law took effect that encourages homeowners to build “granny flats.” These housing units go by many names (including backyard homes, secondary units, garage apartments, auxiliary dwelling unit, and the term we will use: accessory dwelling units or ADUs). Homeowners are at a unique advantage with the passing of AB 2299 and SB 1069, because makes it easier to build a second unit to use as a rental unit on their property - or for an elderly relative, extra income, a caregiver, or a grown child living at home. But many homeowners do not know that the State of California and County of Los Angeles have made it easier than ever to add a legal rental unit to a single-family home. 

In the last three months we have received hundreds of phone calls from local homeowners wanting more information about Accessory Dwelling Units in Torrance, Hawthorne, Lawndale, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Carson, and Lomita, and Santa Monica. We wrote this blog article to help homeowners understand what an Accessory Dwelling Unit is, what the ADU state law means for property owners, and how an ADU unit can be beneficial when used as a rental unit. 


What is an ADU?                                                     


(Typical California-style Accessory Dwelling Unit)

An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) is a residential unit that can be added to a lot with an existing single family home. ADUs can be detached (a separate building in a backyard), attached to or part of the primary residence, or even a garage conversion. ADUs are independent rental units that have their own kitchens, bathrooms, living areas, and entrances. Although similar to a guest house, an ADU should have its own kitchen, bathroom, dedicated entrance, and at least one parking space. Although there are some limitations to providing parking, we will also discuss this in another section. Southern California is suffering from a lack of affordable housing, which is why the State of California is trying to add as many rentals as it can into the housing market.

What is the law for ADUs in Los Angeles?                                              

In 2016 Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills into law, AB 2299 and SB 1069, which took effect in January 2017. These new state laws apply to Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Torrance, Carson, and all cities in Southern California making it easier to build an ADU on a single-family lot. The state law encourages the construction of accessory units because the state and Southern California need more housing. Local municipalities can implement additional restrictions regarding Accessory Dwelling Units, so if you are considering building an ADU on your property you’ll need to research your local ordinances. Local governments may apply development standards and make findings to designate where the new construction of ADUs are permitted. Designating where ADUs are allowed should be based primarily on health and safety issues. Unreasonably restricting the ability of homeowners to create ADUs is contrary to the intent of State law and may subject local agencies to legal scrutiny. The California Department of Housing & Community Development has provided guidance stating that limiting the overall square footage of Accessory Units.

adu laws - easy to build(New laws like SB 1069, AB 2299, and AB 881 make it easier to build)

Why build an ADU?                                                      

ADUs can provide additional space for caregivers, grown children, elderly parents, or renters. Because ADUs are rental units, they produce additional household income. But the most appealing benefit for homeowners to build an ADU is that they can turn it into a rental unit. “Empty nesters” can stay in their neighborhoods by moving into a smaller ADU and renting their larger existing home to pay the mortgage. An ADU can be built to house a relative or caregiver without having to require any rent. There are many reasons for building an ADU on your lot.                                             

How much space will I need for parking?                                                     

Many lots already accommodate two parking spaces in a garage or carport. When you add an ADU, you may need to fit one extra parking space on your lot. If an additional space is required, the space may be covered or uncovered.                                     

You may not need additional parking if:                                               

  1. ADU is located within one-half mile of public transit.
  2. ADU is located within an architecturally and historically significant district.
  3. ADU is part of the existing primary residence or an existing accessory structure. 4. on-street parking permits are required, but not offered to occupant of the ADU. 5. there is a car-share vehicle located within one block of the ADU.                                                  

These are the five current parking exemptions as of July 2017 for the City of Los Angeles, but parking requirements may change. Check with your local Dept. of City Planning for current requirements.

adu-how-much-do-i-need-for-parking(Parking for tenants is important)

Is your lot near Transit?                                                      

Your lot may not need additional parking for your ADU, leaving room for open space, a patio, a bigger ADU, etc. If your lot is located within one-half mile of transit (defined as one-half mile from any bus stop or rail station), it should meet the parking exemption. Map II (p. 13) shows that many lots (coded in pink) meet the transit exemption.Verify your specific lot status with the Dept. of City Planning or the Dept. of Building and Safety, particularly since bus stops can move. 

Accessory Dwelling Unit Restrictions

In the city of Loa Angeles, the Department of City Planning has recommended the following restrictions

  1. No ADUs in Hillside areas, except when located within a half mile of public transit and adjoining a standard street
  2.  No ADUs between the front of the primary residence and the street
  3. ADUs are only allowed in zones that allow residential uses with an existing single-family residence
  4. ADUs are limited to only one per lot;
  5. ADUs are limited in size to 50% of the primary residence. Under no circumstance can an ADU be larger than 1,200 sq. ft. As for detached ADUs, the City may not require an ADU less than 640 sq. ft.

ADUs are required to meet all underlying zoning, floor area and land use regulations.


For over 15 years Bay Cities Construction has helped hundreds of homeowners with their kitchen remodeling projects, helping them transform their house into a home they love. Our team has the experience and expertise to help you with home remodeling, kitchen remodeling, bathroom remodeling, home additions, soft-story retrofits, and accessory dwelling unit. When you hire Bay Cities Construction you don’t just hire a contractor, you also hire an entire team of Pros. With several years of experience, our team has the expertise to help you with Interior Design, Architectural and Engineering Services, City Representation, Permit Processing, Construction Project Management, and Construction services. If you think Bay Cities Construction is the right team for you, contact us today.

Ready to take the next step? We’re certain that Bay Cities Construction is the best general contractor for your project, you can Schedule an Appointment by clicking HERE. We offer a complimentary 1-hour consultation at our office, so you can meet our team and we can discuss your home remodeling project. Our team of Pros can help you design and build the kitchen of your dreams. If you have been disappointed by other contractors, it's time to call one of the best home remodelers in the South Bay.

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