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Encouraging the construction of 'granny units': An FAQ on ADUs

You're a homeowner and you want to put in a small residential unit on your property, either within or slightly away from the main dwelling. Should be simple and straightforward, right? After all, you own the property.

Actually, it's not quite so simple. But the California Legislature has recently acted to make the construction of accessory dwelling units - sometimes called "granny units" - easier and less expensive to construct.

In this post, we will use a Q & A format to inform you about the recent change in the law on these units.

What are accessory dwelling units (ADUs)?

ADUs are, as their names implies, residential units that are connected to a homeowners' main structure. Many of them are backyard cottages. But some of them are studio apartments.

They may be very small, as little as 400 square feet.

Who lives in them?

Well, as the colloquial name for them ("granny units") implies, some of the residents are indeed grandmothers. But it isn't only family members who may live in them. It could be unrelated people to whom the homeowner has decided to rent.

What is the law change?

Under Senate Bill 1069, agencies that provide water and sewer services will not be allowed to charge fees for hooking up certain categories of ADUs. The change applies to detached units that already exist on the same lot as an existing house and to units built within an existing house.

Senate Bill 1069 also prohibits local agencies from applying parking regulations on certain types of ADUs. The parking rules restriction applies not only to ADUs connected to an existing residence, but also to those located near public transit (i.e., within half a mile).

When will this change take effect?

January 2017.

What has the reaction to the new law been?

Supporters say that encouraging the construction of ADUs by easing the restrictions will help address the Bay Area's affordable housing crisis. The California Housing Consortium and many other groups take this position.

Opponents say the new law restricts the authority of local governments to regulate ADUs and could alter the dynamics of neighborhoods negatively. The League of California Cities takes this position, as does the California Association of Counties.

As a homeowner, how can you continue to protect your interests?

If you are uncertain about your rights, it makes sense to discuss your specific situation with an attorney who is knowledgeable about real estate disputes.

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