The new state law which has opened up far more options for the creation of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), including creating ADUs in multi-unit/apartment buildings, has been in effect for over a year now. However, just like with the rest of life, the process of obtaining an ADU permit has changed a bit due to COVID-19.
The law is still strong and remains the same, opening up many more opportunities than ever before to create ADUs. However, depending on the city, much, if not all, of the process is online and communication with plan checkers is through various project systems or through email. This can be a bit more confusing than when an applicant could go to the city in person and speak with someone directly.
A city still has the obligation to act on an application for the creation of ADUs within 60 days, but it often takes an extended amount of time to actually have what is deemed to be a completed application submitted. Due to the new types of ADUs allowed under the state law, different types of ADUs can have different requirements that need to be met and supplied to the city with the general application in order for the application to be deemed complete, and have the 60-day clock start running.
For example, in order to obtain an ADU permit for a separate, detached, new construction structure that can create up to two additional units, some cities are requiring things like solar plans. Requirements like this may not be clear up front, and can cause a delay because solar plans should be done at the same time as the architectural design plans.
If an applicant submits an application with only the regular architectural plans, they may have to go back and find someone to do solar plans at the end of the design rather than the beginning, which can be quite challenging.
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There are other requirements that may or may not need to be met, which are not clear at first glance. Even when a city requires things like solar plans, or soils reports, the rate of return on investment in creating additional units is excellent and continues to grow. There is a never-ending stream of additional income, and a permanent increase in the overall value of the property.
The clock is ticking as the law that creates these new opportunities expires January 1, 2025. The time to act on creating additional units through the new ADU law is now. Due to COVID-19, many cities have still not enacted their own ADU ordinances, which could diminish the amount of square footage allowed for the ADU. If a city has not enacted its own ADU ordinance that is fully compliant with the state law, then the city must operate under the state law.
There is an additional reason to act quickly on obtaining ADU permits. The current state law only requires that there be a 4-foot side and rear setback on an ADU, and has no setback requirement for the conversion of existing space.
However, a bill (SB 765) has been introduced by Senator Henry Stern, which would give cities more power to deny ADUs based on setback requirements. The bill would allow cities to impose more stringent setback requirements, which in many cases would make the creation of an ADU impossible. So, once again the time to act on obtaining ADU permits is now. For more information, please call Sheri Swist at 310-869-5153.
Sheri Swist is with the Housing Reform Coalition of Los Angeles, a non-profit organization helping apartment owners. For more information, please call 310-869-5153.