New law allows granny flats in California

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Accessory dwelling units, commonly known as granny flats, have become legal in California. Many people are opting to add these units to existing properties rather than move to a larger home.

■ By Matt McPherson / Columnist

More and more homeowners are opting to construct room additions or accessory dwelling units (ADUs) – more commonly known as granny flats – rather than move into a larger home. And in an attempt to alleviate the housing shortage, more municipalities are granting permits for these secondary structures.
Up until recently numerous forms of guest houses were deemed illegal in California. At the beginning of 2017 a new law took effect that made it easier to add ADUs, which has caught on across the state. According to U.S. Modular Inc., a firm that specializes in secondary housing units, it is estimated that 600,000 new units could be added to California’s housing supply if just 10 percent of California’s 6.8 million homeowners added granny flats to their dwellings.
“California is in a housing crisis, and allowing people to modify their existing home or build a small cottage in their backyard will increase the rental supply at no costs to taxpayers,” stated California Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont).
Wieckowski authored one of two bills leading to the legalization and increased interest in granny flats. Previously, homeowners who converted a garage or installed a granny flat without permits received stiff penalties, and in many cases had to tear down the additions or convert them back to their original state after city regulators discovered the change.
Legislation signed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown was designed to stimulate the construction of garage conversions and granny flats by making it cheaper and easier. This also will make thousands of illegal granny flats throughout Southern California finally eligible for permitting.
“It will also enable people of all ages to stay in the community they like without having to move away from their family, friends, work, or school,” explained Wieckowski.
Many lawmakers are becoming more receptive to the idea of ADUs and see that they are gaining popularity, which in turn is sparking more demand for the properties that have them. A Los Angeles-based organization, Yes In My Back Yard Los Angeles, is run by Ira Belgrade who helps property owners build ADUs, garage conversions, and granny flats for around $30,000.
“A homeowner could retrofit an existing 400-square foot garage or other structure into a granny flat for about $30,000,” said Belgrade. “It could get to $50,000-$75,000, but that’s money you’ll recoup over time. You have to look at the value you’re adding to your home.”
Mike Balsamo, CEO of the Building Industry Association of Southern California, said that “people are feeling better about the equity in their homes and home values have increased. That’s normally when you see home remodeling and secondary units take off.”
The recent legislation also reduces the exorbitant fees many cities were charging for permits, which now is increasing options for affordable housing. “In terms of solving the housing crisis,” said Balsamo, “it’s a drop in the bucket – but we’ll take it.”
The new law makes it easier for homeowners to build ADUs by prohibiting cities from requiring fire sprinklers if the primary house already has them and also eliminates the requirement for additional parking spaces for units located within a half-mile of public transit. It discontinues fees to connect to sewer and water systems for existing structures and reduces fees for newly constructed dwellings.
If you find yourself in need of more square footage on your property or want to add equity with an additional unit, a granny flat is a much more affordable option now that the regulations and requirements have been relaxed. Make sure your yard is large enough to accommodate an extra unit and check with your local municipality to check size and building requirements.
As a result of this new trend in construction, craft builders are in high demand. Shop around to find a contractor with experience in building granny flats and who is knowledgeable in the local city/county laws in your area and neighborhood.
Granny flats are a much more financially feasible option now and can generate an extra income through rent while adding significant equity to your home.

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