California Granny Flat Law
What is a granny flat? A granny flat or “accessory dwelling unit” is a self-contained unit in addition to the main house. It is typically designed for one or two people to live in with a bed and kitchenette. It can be attached, detached, or in the main house, but is always built on the same lot where the original owner resides. Thus, the granny flat shares a water meter and electric bill with the main home. However, California granny flat law maintains that there can only be one granny flat and one house on the same lot.
Why do people build granny flats? Granny flats are known for being the perfect place for parents or grandparents to live in during retirement. This style of home is the perfect housing to keep grandparents living independently while also being close to the family. On the other hand, they’ve been known as a perfect home for recent graduates and young adults to live as they save for their first home. If you don’t need the extra space as your kids get older, consider the granny flat as a perfect guest house to host family and friends when they come to stay over.
However, over the past years, not enough homes have been built to keep up with the growing population in California, creating a housing crisis and skyrocketed rent prices. In times of increasing rental costs, and high demand for affordable housing, the granny flat can be used to house not only grandma in her elderly years but other friends and family as well.
Though there are many legal requirements to navigate before doing so, another great use for the granny flat is to earn extra income. Having a steady passive income from someone renting out a portion of your property can drastically improve your quality of life and ease the stress of mortgage payments.
Despite the logical reasons for wanting a granny flat addition, most California homeowners know that in the past it has been almost impossible to add a granny flat onto an existing home due to stringent regulations that were put in place during the 80’s. These granny flat regulations intended to preserve public health, safety, and welfare. Laws that required proof of property owners living in one of the properties and could only have a relative living in the second property have since been overturned allowing non-dependent children and relatives to live in the space.
How Has it Changed?
As a result of the housing shortage in California, a series of laws has taken place to make the building of granny flats on single-family residence zoning codes much more lenient. The intent is to ease the stress of high rents for low to middle-income workers in a fast and cost-effective manner.
In January, a state law took place which required cities to ease the current regulations that limit the ability to build granny flats through various steps. These regulations included issues regarding restrictions on parking, fire sprinklers, buffers between property lines, and utility limitations. The new sizing rule increased from a maximum flat size of 700 square feet to the lesser of either half the size of the original home or 1,200 square feet. On the other hand, units called “companion units” or “in-law suites” at a maximum of 500 square feet are now legal to be built in single-family homes on the restriction that they are equipped with a kitchenette. To deter homeowners from renting these dwelling units as short-term vacation rentals, tenants are required to be listed under a 30-day lease minimum. San Diego City Council also unanimously approved legislation to lower the development fees associated with building granny flats in San Diego which, in most cases, previously matched the cost of building the flat in the first place.
Who is Eligible to Build?
Although the state of California has made it significantly easier to adopt an accessory dwelling unit, not every home can provide the framework for an ADU not every homeowner is ready to take on tenants. So who is eligible to build one? Checking with your local governments and city ordinances is a good place to start. Check to see what your city codes are for building an ADU based on criteria such as construction fees and parking requirements. San Diego County currently requires one parking space for an accessory unit, unless the unit is close to mass public transit. Some cities may also find pre-planned and pre-approved floor plans to make the process of constructing a granny flat even more manageable without the hassle of getting every step of the process approved.
Those Looking for an Efficient Way to Earn Extra Income
Rental properties are great investments for homeowners looking for an additional steady income. However, purchasing a rental property, renovating it, filling it with tenants, and managing it can be a pretty difficult task for anyone who hasn’t done it before. To add to that, another property comes with another mortgage to pay down. So, for those looking to try renting out a space in a more straightforward way, building a granny flat is a viable option. Having an ADU on your own property not only provides you with extra cash flow, but it is much easier to manage tenants and maintain the building and amenities when they are located conveniently on your own property. If you are looking to get your toes wet as a landlord, the granny flat is a great place to start.
Homes with Large Side or Backyards
The size of your granny flat is dependant on the size of your yard or whatever space you choose to build the ADU on. However, it is also dependant on how much space you are willing to give up or share. Building an ADU is done much easier on a lot that has a significant amount of space on the side or backyard to where the extra home doesn’t overcrowd the area but is still easily accessible from the main home. According to zoning laws in California, you’ll also need enough room for buffer zones between homes and fences. An excellent place to start is by thinking about what kind of tenants you will be renting to. Does your neighborhood have a vibrant nightlife? If so, you may be renting to young singles who probably won’t need much yard space. On the other hand, if your neighborhood is known for having a great schooling system in a family neighborhood, renting to a small family may require more shared backyard space.
Homes Structured for Success
Certain cities such as San Diego allow garages to be converted into a granny flat which is great for those who do not find themselves needing the extra space that a garage provides. If on-street parking is abundant in your neighborhood, this may be a great option for you. If your garage is an essential part of your everyday life, another option would be to construct a granny flat above your garage. This will grant you your privacy while still utilizing every inch of your home. On the other hand, granny flat regulations in San Diego also allow for porches to be converted into an accessory dwelling units. This is typically done by enclosing the preexisting structure. However, if your home has any pre-construction structural issues, more work may need to be done before enclosing the porch. In this case, constructing an attached external accessory dwelling unit may be more feasible for budget and time allowances.
Attached Internal ADU
An in-home granny flat is made by converting part of your existing home into a separate dwelling unit. This type of property change is converted from within and therefore is less obvious that there is an extra unit within the single-family dwelling when looking from the outside of the property. The internal ADU is often built from an existing basement or attic. Although there are typically no external entryways to this type of ADU, it is the cheapest type to build because they require little materials for construction. And to reduce costs even further, they typically do not require large and expensive appliances that are typically found in other housing units. The perfect candidate for this type of ADU is a close family member, teens who need more privacy, or recent college grads who are saving money to live on their own.
Attached External ADU
An attached granny flat can be less costly than a detached granny flat because it utilizes an already existing part of your home which cuts down on costs in the construction phase. However, you’ll still need to provide an entrance to the flat that is separate from the primary residence to ensure that guests and tenants can come and go without disturbing those who live in the main house. Although rare, an attached ADU can be more on the costly side since you may have to do structural changes to the original home in order to support a second structure. When building this type of attached structure, you should consider who will be living in it as they will be in very close proximity to your family home. A good candidate for this property would be independent family members or friends since you’ll likely be sharing entrances and spaces with them.
The detached ADU provides additional habitable space that must be set on a foundation, which eliminates the ability to use an RV or mobile home for the space. These are used primarily to provide the least amount of disturbance to those in the main house. Because the unit and main entrance are entirely detached from the original home on the property, they are best suited for dwellers who want to remain independent. The ideal candidates would be family members who need their own space or tenants who want to keep their privacy from landlords. Detached units must have a kitchenette and bathroom for renters, which brings the building cost per square foot up significantly. However, more amenities can mean higher price points when discussing rent projections. You will need to keep in mind that the detached unit also requires the most space in the back or side yard of your home.
Can a Granny Flat Boost the Value of a Home?
As we have mentioned before, the granny flat or “ADU” can be a very cost-effective way to house elderly family members or students while remaining independent. On the other hand, they can also be a great way to earn extra income by turning it into a rental property. But what does constructing a granny flat do to the value of your home when it comes time to put it on the market? Does the presence of a granny flat increase marketability? The answer is yes. If the granny flat is built properly, doesn’t miss any steps when getting a building permit and abides by the rules and regulations of construction, it can be a great asset to increasing the value of your home.
For this reason, it is incredibly important to have a professional take control throughout the whole process. Depending on what type of flat you choose, a granny flat can increase the value of a home by up to 60 percent. So before you build, it is a good idea to get advice from a professional to make sure that you’re building cost effectively. Another thing to keep in mind is the location of your home. Will the new owners be renting it out the same way you did? Will they use it as a haven for their older children? Is there a college nearby that might provide an abundance of student rental demand?
Overall, the much sought after granny flat addition has been made much more accessible through the change in regulations throughout California. The decrease in fees and regulations has brought about a spur of Californians to construct ADUs on their properties as a place for their loved ones and even to try their hand at landlordship to diversify their income.