Introduction to Accessory Dwelling Units
An accessory dwelling unit commonly called a granny flat or in-law suite must exist on a lot that’s zoned single-family. It has its own entrance, separate from the primary house, as well as a kitchen, bathroom and living space. These units can be rented, year-round, and add a lot of value to a property.
Accessory dwelling units take different structural forms. They can be garage conversions, stand-alone units, attic or basement conversions, or be attached to the main house.
Here’s the tricky part, it’s hard to know where to start. The process to build a granny flat doesn’t differ much from building a new house; it’s expensive, cumbersome, and the granny flat regulations in Los Angeles can be confusing.
When the state passed the granny flat law, it prevents local jurisdictions from putting an undue burden on granny flat construction. This means all the old local ordinances were considered null and void.
For those of you have previously looked into building a granny flat and found out you couldn’t, you are now in luck!
Now, each local jurisdiction can choose to pass a local ordinance, or they can simply adopt the state standards.
Los Angeles has not passed its own ADU ordinance and is still operating off the state standards.
You can see the draft ordinance, the Planning staff’s (and Planning Commission’s) report, etc. on the Planning Dept’s website. Go to planning.lacity.org; then go to Ordinances; then go to proposed ordinances; then go to Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance.
ADUs are allowed on properties zoned R-A, R-1, R-2, R-3, R-4, A-1 or A-2 (or any other zone that allows single-family residences by right). As of 2020, ADUs are now allowed on multi-family zoned lots as well.
Not sure what your zone is? Contact Maxable Space and we can help!
Thanks to new ADU legislation there are no longer minimum lot size.
Min/Max Building Sizes
The minimum build size of an ADU is 150 square feet with one habitable room with a floor area of 70 square feet. For an attached ADU, the maximum build size is either 50% of the square footage of the primary dwelling or 1200 square feet, whichever is less. The maximum build size for a detached unit or a conversion is 1200 square feet.
The maximum ADU height is 25 feet.
- No parking is required for an ADU that meets any of the following criteria:
The ADU is located within .5 mile of a public bus stop or rail station, and the path of travel is publicly accessible.
The ADU is part of or within the primary residence or existing accessory building.
The ADU is on a street that requires on-street parking permits, but the permit has not been offered to the occupant of the ADU.
The ADU is located within one block of where a motor vehicle provides hourly and daily service as part of a regional fleet operated by a public agency or publicly-leased motor-vehicle-sharing organization.
The ADU is located within a historic district listed in the City’s Historic Resources Inventory.
If you convert your garage the parking spaces are no longer required to be replaced. This is in alignment with the new state laws.
Many lots in LA are within a half-mile of transit so that ADU parking will not be required. The City publishes a transit map here.
- Check to see if your lot appears to be within a half-mile radius of a bus stop, rail station, or a dedicated space where a shared-vehicle is parked.
- You can then call the Department of Building and Safety to confirm whether parking is needed. Their phone is (213) 473-3231, and their website is accessible here.
4 feet minimum rear and side setbacks.
Owner occupancy requires that the homeowner either live in the ADU or in the primary dwelling. Owner occupancy has been removed in all jurisdictions in California until the year 2025. Any homeowner who builds and ADU from 2020-2025 will forever be grandfathered into no owner occupancy requirement even if the legislation changes to require owner occupancy in the future.
An ADU can always be rented long-term. A long-term rental is defined as a rental period that is 30 days or greater. Airbnb, or other short-term rentals, are restricted for ADUs in Los Angeles.
How to Evaluate ROI
People often underestimate the cost to build a small unit. There are a lot of fixed costs and the expensive square footage, like a kitchen and bathroom, are not offset by large cheaper square footage (for example, large living rooms, hallways, and multiple bedrooms).
With that being said, building an accessory dwelling unit, especially if you intend to keep the property for a few years, represents an enormously beneficial opportunity to maximize your property.
By constructing an accessory dwelling unit you are adding additional square footage to the property. So if you can build a unit for $300 a square foot, but the average value of homes in your neighborhood are worth $500 a square foot you are gaining instant equity through the project. Plus, you also now have the added benefit of a flexible space that can be rented or used for family.
Property Value (avg value per sq ft)
$653 (Data provided by Zillow)
Construction Costs (avg cost per sq ft)
$300 (Cost will vary depending on size of structure. The smaller you build the higher your cost per square foot will be)
Equity Gained through project
$653-300=$253 (Meaning you are gaining $253 in property value for every square foot built)