- By Remodel Works
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Zoning Laws in California
Most of us would love to have more living space in our homes, but there’s a lot to think about before you decide to add a home extension or build a granny flat. Not only do you need to think about the size of your property and how much you have to spend on the project, you need to think about what type of home extension will work for your lifestyle and unique situation.
You also need to consider the legal and regulatory aspects of adding onto your home. Although California recently implemented laws that make building an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) easier and more affordable, there’s still a lot to learn about California granny flat law.
Our team is here to guide you through zoning laws in California to help you stay in compliance with every zoning ordinance as you add space and value to your home. We’ll also help you gain a better understanding of what a granny flat is and the many advantages of adding one to your property. By the time you finish this article, you’ll be an expert on the subject – and ready to tackle this home improvement project with help from experienced contractors.
Answering the Big Question – What Is A Granny Flat?
Anyone who lives in California knows that the demand for housing is growing. 80,000 homes have been built each year during the last decade, but that’s still 100,000 a year too few to keep up with the state’s population growth. The result is sky-high rent and housing prices. The median home price in California last year was nearly $500,000, which is double the national average. It’s no wonder that homeownership is at a 70-year low in the state.
All of these factors have led to the rise of granny flats among homeowners who are looking to rent space on their properties for extra income. They are also popular for families who want to move grandparents or other family members into their properties to save money. They can even provide extra space for a home-based business.
Although granny flats are popular housing arrangements for grandparents, anyone can live in these homes. For this reason, there are many other terms to describe a granny flat, including an accessory apartment, an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), an in-law apartment, a mother-in-law unit, a granny pod and a carriage unit.
The basic definition of a granny flat is a separate living area that can comfortably house one or two people. Most of these flats fit into the tiny house category. They can be attached to the primary home or separate for added privacy, which is ideal for rental properties.
The size and general plan of each granny flat vary, as do the amenities. Some homeowners may build a dwelling that truly is a miniature version of the main home. Others may have limited space or funds, so they may opt for a smaller and more-basic setup. Either way, most granny flats are smaller than the majority of homes, so people who are coming from a larger living space will need to do some downsizing before they move in.
The Benefits of a Granny Flat
With housing prices on the rise and more families embracing multigenerational housing, granny flats in San Diego County are growing in popularity. Many realtors say that a granny flat is a wonderful selling point for a home – and there’s a good reason why homeowners love them. Let’s explore some of the benefits of adding one of these structures to your property.
The Benefits of Adding a Granny Flat
Adding a granny flat to your home can create more living space and many new possibilities. What you do with this extra space is entirely up to you, but two of the most popular options include renting the flat for extra income and moving in grandparents or extended family.
Because housing and living expenses in California are not cheap, many people are looking for ways to earn extra cash. By renting a granny flat to tenants, you can earn a regular income. Many people count on these monthly rent checks to cover their living expenses or house payment. However, before you become a granny flat landlord, it’s important to review laws and deed restrictions for any bans on renting such a dwelling.
The financial benefits of adding a granny flat continue if and when you decide to sell your home. Adding a granny flat to your property adds extra space to your home and boosts its resale value.
A granny flat can also provide a safe and comfortable place for grandparents or other family members to live. Homeowners with aging parents can move them into the granny flat to keep an eye on them instead of incurring the cost of moving them into a nursing home or assisted living community. These flats can also be great for young adults who need to move back home after college. They can have privacy and their own space as they gain financial stability.
Building a granny flat can also help parents who need childcare, but cannot afford a live-in nanny. Grandparents or another family member can move into the dwelling and help care for the children when the homeowner needs some help.
This arrangement not only helps the parents with childcare, it is also beneficial for the grandparents and grandchildren. Social connections enhance the mental and physical health of seniors – and grandparents love to spend time with their grandchildren. Moving into a granny flat on the property allows grandparents to be in close proximity to the people they love and experience all of these benefits.
A Look at the New California Granny Flat Laws
Until recently, it could be quite challenging to add a granny flat to your property in California. Homeowners had to contend with strict regulations that varied widely from city to city. However, the state realized the severity of its housing crisis and the role that granny flats could play in solving it, so it enacted some new legislation about a year and a half ago. It is now easier than ever before to build an accessory dwelling unit.
The laws define what the state considers to be an accessory dwelling unit versus short-term rentals. In the past, many terms were used to describe these buildings. According to the state of California, an accessory dwelling unit is “an attached or detached residential dwelling unit, which provides completely independent living facilities for one or more persons. It includes permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation on the same parcel as the single-family dwelling is situated.” This definition also covers efficiency units and manufactured homes.
Even more important than the definition, these comprehensive new laws limit the ability of local governments to regulate granny flats. In the past, local ordinances included standards about setbacks, off-street parking, lot coverage, zones and construction that often served as barriers to the construction of granny flats.
The law doesn’t forbid local governments from enacting a specific ordinance to govern the building and permitting of granny flats, but local governments cannot have stricter requirements than those imposed by state law. This basically means that state law is now king when it comes to California granny flat law. So, let’s take a look at what the laws say.
Application Approval Process
Only the property owner can submit an application to build a granny flat. If you submit an application to construct a granny flat, it must be approved or denied within 120 days of its receipt. The review can only be ministerial, which means that the public agency can only deny an application if it doesn’t comply with the applicable laws and regulations.
Permitted Size of the Unit
The laws increased the maximum, permitted size of an accessory dwelling unit. In the past, a granny flat’s size could only be 30% of the existing living area. It can now be 50% of the existing living area, but not to exceed 1200 square ft.
All accessory dwelling units must still be consistent with existing zoning laws and the general plans that regulate the density of lot development. As a result, it is important to check with the zoning regulations and laws in your city to make sure that you are in compliance with them before you invest time and money into building a granny flat on your property.
The number of parking spaces could once make or break whether you could build a granny flat on your property. However, the new laws change that by only requiring one space per accessory dwelling unit or bedroom. The requirement for off-street parking can be met by tandem parking or setback spaces. The only exception is if the parking interferes with fire or safety regulations.
The laws also state that local agencies cannot impose parking rules for certain granny flats. These include those that are within a half-mile of public transit, in a historic district, part of the existing primary residence, in an area that requires permit parking, or located within a block of a car share area.
Grandfathering Existing Structures
Homeowners who built a granny flat before the new laws were passed can still get their unit approved, as long as it meets certain requirements. First of all, the structure must be within the existing space of a single-family residence or accessory structure. Secondly, the property must be zoned for single-family residential use. Thirdly, the dwelling must have exterior access that is separate from the existing residence. Finally, the building must have sufficient side and rear setbacks for fire safety.
When an accessory dwelling unit is within an existing structure, it should not be considered a new residence for purposes of calculating connection fees or capacity charges. If it is not within an existing structure, the local government can require separate utility connections. However, the charges must be proportionate to the burden of the dwelling on the water and sewer systems.
The Limits of the New Laws
These new laws govern planning and zoning issues, but they don’t address building codes. Many people don’t realize that these are two very different things. Planning and zoning regulate how owners can use land and property, while building regulates construction and code compliance for home improvement and additions.
Getting Help to Build a Granny Flat
Preparing to undertake any home improvement project can be overwhelming, especially when it involves adding another structure to your single-family home. However, you don’t have to – and you shouldn’t – do it alone. A team of professionals with experience building granny flats in California can help make the process a breeze.
Remodel Works is a building company based in San Diego. We use our three decades of knowledge and experience to create a meticulous plan that will set your building project up for success. We consider every detail of a project, starting with the initial idea through construction.
We know that our customers have better things to do than wonder when their home improvement project is going to be finished, so our contractors will keep you informed through every step of the process. We know that your time and money are precious, so we are committed to staying on schedule and within the agreed-upon budget.
Our customers love that we have been in California for decades, so we understand the ins and outs of the state’s granny flat laws. You can rest easy knowing that your project will be in compliance with the law and you won’t have to worry about problems later. You can also feel confident that we build structures that are designed to last. We want you and your family to enjoy our work for years to come.
Now that you understand zoning laws in California, you are armed with the knowledge you need to take the first steps to build a granny flat.
For more information about granny flats, check out our articles on what is a granny flat and granny flat regulations in San Diego.