California law governing ADUs has been revised pursuant to two new “clean up measures”, SB 897 and AB 2221, which went into effect January 1, 2023. These new laws clarify and correct several different unforeseen barriers to the approval and construction of ADUs that had surfaced after the adoption of previous ADU legislation by the state. These revisions will require local authorities to review and update their local ADU ordinances in order to conform to state law.
One important change provided under these new laws is the requirement that local standards imposed on ADUs be objective, in order to eliminate barriers that had arisen to the construction of ADUs. The new law defines an “objective standard” as a standard that involves no personal or subjective judgment by a public official and that is uniformly verifiable. In addition, these new laws allow detached ADUs to be constructed in a detached garage, and exempt ADUs from triggering fire sprinkler requirements in existing primary dwellings due to total increased dwelling square footage on the property.
Further, local agencies can no longer deny ADU applications based on existing nonconforming zoning conditions, building code violations, or other unpermitted structures located on the property that do not threaten public health and safety. Minimum height limits have also been revised, and front setback requirements can no longer be used to prevent ADU construction. Parking standards can no longer be imposed on ADUs included in applications to create new single-family or multifamily dwellings, and local agencies cannot require modifications to existing multifamily dwellings with setbacks of less than four feet. Finally, local authorities are required to issue demolition permits to replace detached garages with ADUs, and they cannot deny building permits for unpermitted ADUs constructed before January 1, 2018, unless they are deemed substandard under California housing law.
These changes are expected to reduce the cost of some ADU projects, expedite their permitting, and generally make such projects more commercially viable. For example, these new regulations can change the sequence of construction of multiple new buildings on the same lot. Before these changes went into effect, builders who wished to build both a multifamily structure and an ADU on the same lot had to build them in series, adding cost and time to both projects. Now, if practical, both buildings can be planned, built and go on the market at the same time. It is expected that this will result in more affordable housing and more housing availability.
We will have to wait and see whether these new measures, together with those existing laws on the books, will continue to remove roadblocks to ADU construction in California. The text of SB 897 can be found here, and the text of AB 2221 can be found here.