With insane housing costs throughout California, it’s no surprise that the majority of the cities on this list were located in the sunshine state. But we were thrilled to see ADU-friendly initiatives in other states as well.
San Francisco, CA
Starting this list off strong is San Francisco!
The San Francisco Planning website is your one-stop shop for everything ADU. It’s extremely organized, detailed, and contains a multitude of helpful resources for anyone looking to build an ADU. Everything from checklists to handbooks to San Francisco’s legislative history is there for your convenience.
Some more good news is that San Francisco offers several different ADU programs to property owners: the Local Program, the State Program, and the Hybrid Program.
The citywide Local Program in San Francisco offers:
- A streamlined review process
- An opportunity to build unlimited ADUs on certain multi-family lots or for projects undergoing either mandatory or voluntary upgrades
- Waivers or partial waivers for ADUs added to existing buildings. These waivers provide exceptions to the following categories:
- Density (the number of residential units on a property)
- Open space (the amount of outdoor useable space per unit)
- Rear year (the amount of backyard)
- Exposure (the number of windows that a unit has or amount of open area that it’s facing)
The State and Hybrid programs also have a highly streamlined review process. Here are a few key advantages:
- 60-day review timeline (from the date of complete application)
- Shortened appeal window with appeals heard within 10 – 30 days of filing
- No discretionary review opportunity
- Prevents the City from subjecting some ADUs to the rent stabilization provisions (i.e. rent control) of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance
- And more!
For a more comprehensive look at the benefits of these programs, check out the FAQ section of the San Francisco Planning website!
Next in line is the beach city of Encinitas, located in San Diego County!
Encinitas stands out because of its Permit Ready ADU (PRADU) Program. PRADU encourages the construction of ADUs by offering property owners a series of pre-approved ADU plans, including studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom units.
Speaking truthfully, it’s not a perfect system. We’d like to see more floor plan options in the future, or adopting a similar pre-approved plans initiative to San Jose’s, where the designs are owned by the designers and architects which is a big plus to homeowners (you can read more about that here). Nonetheless, we appreciate Encinitas taking the initiative to offer easier options to streamline the process.
We look forward to hearing how they improve their program moving forward.
Click here for more information about Encinitas’ PRADU program!
San Diego County, CA
Let’s not overlook San Diego County as a whole!
San Diego offers some of the most progressive ADU regulations in the whole state, often going above and beyond what is required from state regulations. It’s no surprise that this has resulted in an absolute explosion in ADUs being built. According to California YIMBY, “ADUs comprised roughly one in four homes built in the state last year”. WHOA!
Over the years, they have also upped the maximum ADU square footage to 1,200 sq ft! Just check out this absolute behemoth of an ADU!
Also, all of San Diego County offers the PRADU program! These pre-approved yet customizable ADU building plans really help shorten the ADU timeline for homeowners.
San Jose, CA
It hardly gets more ADU-friendly than San Jose for several key reasons!
In 2019, the city of San Jose rolled out a number of new measures focused on making it easier than ever to add an ADU to your property. One notable addition was the creation of ADU Tuesdays, which offers homeowners an “express lane” of sorts to expedite the ADU permit approval process.
San Jose also offers Master Plans with pre-approved designs to save homeowners both time and money.
But that’s not all! They also worked to create a universal checklist that consolidates all ADU building requirements into one easy-to-read list.
Now that’s what we call ADU-friendly!
Palo Alto, CA
Located in the stunning Bay Area, Palo Alto certainly makes the cut for this list!
For starters, they have a local non-profit called Rebuilding Together Peninsula. It’s aimed at rebuilding and repairing homes to create a much safer and healthier place for homeowners to live. By doing so, they are preventing displacement, as well as performing other good deeds!
Their mission equally applies to illegally constructed ADUs that are unsafe, unhealthy, and unstable housing options. These illegal ADUs are often converted garages or outbuildings that are simply not built to code and/or are unpermitted.
We can’t give enough props to Rebuild Together Peninsula for taking on this very important, ADU-friendly work!
Located in East Palo Alto (EPA), there is also a program called EPA CAN DO. Their mission is simple: to create affordable housing, as well as promote community and economic development.
Within this program is the CANDO ADU project, where they can:
- Evaluate how an ADU can fit on your lot
- Provide referrals to design-build teams
- Provide access to pre-designed plans
- Provide financial readiness assessments and information on available financing options
- Provide construction project management
So, what’s your part in all this? In exchange for their services, you agree to rent your ADU to anyone whose income is 80% or less of the Area Median Income (AMI). In other words, uphold their mission by making your ADU affordable.
We’d say that’s a fair bargain to make!
Santa Cruz, CA
We certainly can’t forget about Santa Cruz’s ADU-friendly initiatives!
For anyone looking to get more information about ADUs, Santa Cruz’s website is the place to go! It is extremely informative, providing information on basic ADU requirements, specific standards for different ADUs, and fee estimates.
They also have the Safe Structures Program, formerly known as the Limited Immunity Amnesty Program (LIAP). The purpose of this program is to promote inspections of unpermitted structures, including ADUs, and offer technical assistance to get the structure permitted. That way, they become safe and habitable housing options for the Santa Cruz community.
The city of Santa Cruz also provides a list of ADU prototype architects to aid in the designing and planning of ADUs in the area.
Los Angeles, CA
Including Los Angeles in this list was a no-brainer.
Back in 2021, the city launched a massive Approved Standard Plans initiative that featured a large library of pre-approved ADU plans submitted by numerous designers and architects. The designs were…interesting. There were certainly some very creative designs on there, some more practical than others, but what was so exciting about this initiative is that it started a lot of buzz around ADUs throughout the city.
Los Angelites that had never even heard about ADUs before were flocking to the internet and their planning department to learn more. Regardless of whether people used these plans or went a different route, if it got people talking about ADUs, we call that a major win.
Additionally, an effort made to forge a more ADU-friendly path forward was Los Angeles’ decision to allow ADUs to be built under power lines. Yep, you heard us correctly!
According to YimbyLA!, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power changed its previous stance that prohibited them to be built under power lines, as long as they still comply with clearance standards. Hooray for more relaxed ADU regulations!
Taking a step outside California, we’ve found that Portland has so much to offer.
Like some other cities on this list, Portland has a well-organized website, chocked-full of helpful information like ADU resources, an application checklist, and more!
Additionally, Portland has worked to eliminate various barriers to ADU development over the years by relaxing regulations and offering financial incentives.
Some ways Portland has eased up on ADU regulation requirements are:
- Increasing allowable square footage
- Increasing height limit
- Reducing design requirements
- Eliminating parking restrictions
- Removing owner occupancy
And one huge financial incentive is Portland’s ADU SDC waiver program, which essentially incentivizes Portland homeowners to build ADUs by waiving system development charges (SDCs). As long as the ADU and the primary house will not be rented as a short-term rental for 10 years, you are eligible!
As always, any way to save homeowners money, in the long run, is a win in our book!
There are also some truly heartwarming Portland ADU stories. One such story comes out of Multnomah County, where over 1,000 homeowners volunteered to have an ADU built in their private backyard.
This project was run by a local nonprofit called Enhabit, which helps homeowners and partners build better living spaces to address homelessness. Four homeowners were initially selected for this pilot project, allowing homeless families to live in the ADUs, rent-free, for five years.
Nothing says genuine ADU-friendliness than touching stories like this one!
Austin, TX certainly gets our ADU-friendly stamp of approval!
In 2017, the Strategic Housing Blueprint was adopted, which focuses on ensuring affordable housing throughout the city. This 10-year plan combines resources and community partnerships with the end goal of creating 60,000 affordable housing units for anyone making less than 80% of the median family income (MFI). And yes, this does include ADUs!
And unlike many other cities, it is possible to have an ADU operate as a short-term rental in Austin. But, you must get licensed first. Check out how to get started today!
Unfortunately, Austin currently does not allow garage conversions, but we’ve heard through the grapevine that this could change soon. Click here to learn more about building an ADU in Austin, TX.
And finally, we have Denver, Colorado to conclude our list!
Similar to Austin, ADUs are available for long-term or short-term rentals. But to do so, you must maintain permanent residency in the primary house. You’ll also need to make sure to apply for a residential rental property license if you’re renting long-term or a short-term rental (STR) license.
Denver also has the West Denver Single Family Plus (WDSF+) ADU Pilot Program.
With this program, homeowners can receive forgivable loans of up to $30,000 to build an ADU and can now rent it to households of any AMI.
In an effort to provide affordable housing, the ADU monthly rent cannot exceed 80% of Denver’s AMI maximum rent for 25 years. Additionally, the ADU cannot be rented in the short term during the 25-year term. But what an easy sacrifice to make to do a whole lot of good!
Plan, hire, and manage your ADU project with Maxable!
If you see an ADU in your future, look no further than Maxable as your starting point! We’ve worked with thousands of homeowners over the years and managed hundreds of ADU projects.
Ready to reap the benefits of some of these ADU-friendly locations? Click here to tell us a bit about your project, and we’ll match you with vetted ADU designers and builders in your neighborhood to help you get started today!