With today’s affordable housing crisis, it feels more prudent than ever to look to ADUs as one possible solution, especially in Los Angeles, CA.
According to a case study by Redfin, the median price for a single family home in Los Angeles was around $1.05M in December of 2022, compared to roughly $720k five years earlier. That’s an increase of almost 46%! This reality is hardly optimistic, especially for young adults buying for the first time.
On a more positive note, ADUs are quickly gaining in popularity for this very reason. We’ve seen some truly spectacular ADUs in Los Angeles, and with new regulations taking effect this year, your options are about to get even better.
That being said, now is a great time to learn how to get started!
Are accessory dwelling units legal in Los Angeles?
In 2017, California passed its first ADU laws. At the time, these laws were complicated and confusing for a lot of homeowners. Fortunately, there has been a lot of clarification done to help simplify those standards and make them easier to understand.
Even better? With the State of California passing more laws that lift ADU restrictions, it’s becoming easier and more affordable to build one than ever!
How much does it cost to build an ADU in Los Angeles, CA?
The price range to build an ADU in Los Angeles is generally between $130,000 – $430,000. While $130k is on the low end of the spectrum, it’s likely that your ADU will cost more.
The price of your ADU depends on:
- Type of construction (above-garage ADUs are typically the most expensive to build, while garage conversions are the cheapest)
- Number of bedrooms and bathrooms
- Quality of finishes
- Lot characteristics
- Availability of material and labor
Homeowners are often shocked by the starting costs for an ADU. But it’s important to understand that building an ADU is not all that different from building a traditional, 2,000-square-foot house. Both require the same elements; ADUs simply have a smaller footprint.
Many people try to use the cost-per-square-foot method to arrive at an estimate for their ADU. But this method is notoriously deceiving, and here’s why.
Any home comes with fixed costs, regardless of size. For example, your design fees will not vary dramatically depending on the size of the ADU. Similarly, all ADUs are required to have a kitchen and bathroom, and that is expensive square footage no matter what. At the end of the day, building an ADU that’s 400 square feet versus 1,200 square feet will not really alter these fixed costs.
With all this in mind, here’s a word to the wise: Be extremely wary of anyone who claims they can build your ADU for under $100k. We monitored hundreds of projects last year and saw the real numbers come through. While there are cost-saving tips to take, it’s unlikely that your project will come in under six digits.
But don’t be discouraged! One great way to keep costs down is by limiting the number of bells and whistles you add. The fancier you get with your design choices, such as vaulted ceilings or top-end appliances, the larger the price tag. It’s worth thinking about your must-haves versus other areas where you could be more flexible.
Read on for further information about the cost to build a granny flat in Los Angeles.
What kind of ADU can I build in Los Angeles?
Fortunately, there are so many options at your disposal! The trick is figuring out which one makes sense for you. Each type of ADU has different factors to consider before you make a final decision.
Here’s a quick rundown of your choices.
A detached ADU is a stand-alone building that is separate from the primary residence but on the same property, usually situated in the backyard.
From renting out the ADU to housing adult family members or caregivers, there are so many ways to maximize a detached ADU! This option provides a sense of privacy and autonomy while also remaining close to the main house.
An attached ADU differs from a detached ADU because it is connected to the primary residence. They are sometimes wholly or partly created from an existing space, like an attached garage, attic, master suite, or rec room.
Garage Conversion ADU
This ADU is the most popular option and offers loads of advantages! For homeowners looking to upgrade their dingy garage into usable space, this is the way to go. It’s also financially advantageous given that it utilizes an already existing space. You can either choose to keep your ADU within the footprint of the original garage or expand beyond it.
Over the years, we’ve seen homeowners truly redefine innovation with their creative designs, like these 37 garage conversion ideas you’ll drool over. Everything from adding a deck or sunroom to using the garage door to provide additional natural light are all possibilities in store!
This is a desirable option for homeowners who don’t want to lose their garage given the valuable storage and parking space it provides. But it’s important to note that most garages aren’t built to withstand the weight of an upstairs unit. So, it’ll need to be structurally enforced, making this option the most expensive type of ADU to build.
Nonetheless, these types of ADUs offer great privacy and amazing views. If you’re willing to shell out the extra cost, above-garage ADUs are excellent additions to any property. Learn if an above-garage ADU is right for you.
Even though basements aren’t very common in California, some lucky homeowners have the incredible opportunity to transform theirs into a gorgeous ADU. Much like garages, basements have great bones and are more financially feasible options than other, more expensive types of ADUs.
While there are some regulations for this type of conversion, they are still a fantastic choice for homeowners looking to take full advantage of the rarity that is their basement. Discover how to convert a basement into a living space, and take a tour of this 420 square foot basement conversion!
Where can I build an ADU in Los Angeles?
According to state regulations, an ADU can be built if:
- Your property is in a residential zone (regardless of lot size)
- There is an already existing home on the property (or a proposed home to be built concurrently)
- It adheres to basic restrictions
In plain terms? Most LA homeowners have the opportunity to add an ADU to their property!
Even multifamily properties, such as duplexes or apartment buildings, can add an ADU. Although there may be different construction guidelines, these properties also have the potential to add more than one ADU!
There are some rules for building on your property. For instance, the ADU must be at least 4 feet away from both the rear and side property lines. If you’re building a garage conversion and your garage does not adhere to the 4 feet setback requirement, there’s no need to worry. Regulations still allow you to convert your garage.
As for coastal overlay zones, you are required to obtain special permitting in order to build your ADU there. More on that in a minute!
How many ADUs can I build in Los Angeles, CA?
Previously unclear ADU language seemed to imply that you could only build one ADU and one JADU on the same property.
But as of January 2023, new developments now clearly state that you can actually build an attached ADU, a detached ADU, and a JADU, all on the same property! This is definitely an exciting update that homeowners should know about and take advantage of, if possible.
So, what is a JADU? Junior accessory dwelling units are a form of ADUs that are defined by the following characteristics:
- Size – 500 square feet max.
- Ingress and egress – 150 square feet extra – only if your jurisdiction specifically allows it.
- Location – Within a proposed or existing single-family dwelling or attached accessory structure, such as a garage.
- Separate entry – Exterior access (a separate entrance for the JADU) is required from the proposed or existing single-family dwelling.
- Interior entry to primary house – not required.
- Parking – Not required unless you convert your attached garage.
- Bathroom – May have a separate bathroom or shared with the single-family dwelling.
- Kitchen – Must meet “Efficiency Kitchen” requirements:
- Food preparation counter and storage cabinets that are of reasonable size in relation to the size of the JADU.
- Cooking facilities with appliances – 240-volt outlets are permitted.
- No restriction on maximum waste-line diameter.
Unlike ADUs, owner occupancy is required for the JADU. This means that the owner must reside in either the remaining portion of the single-family residence or the newly created junior accessory dwelling unit.
If you’re looking for more information on JADUs, watch this helpful explanation video.
How big can my ADU be in Los Angeles?
State law allows for an ADU to be up to 800 square feet, but every city has the option to allow more.
In Los Angeles, it depends on what type of ADU you plan to build.
For example, an attached ADU can only be 50% of the size of the main unit. So, if your primary house is 2,000 square feet, then the attached ADU can only be 1,000 square feet. On the other hand, a detached ADU can be up to 1,200 square feet regardless of the main building’s size.
That being said, you may not want to build the biggest ADU possible. Why? Development and impact fees.
Most every structure has had to pay D&I fees at some point, as they support public improvements, services, and facilities. Sounds fine, right? Not when it comes to your budget. These fees can be quite substantial and could cost you thousands of extra dollars.
In California, however, you do not need to pay D&I fees if your ADU is under 750 square feet. For some, that’s one big reason to keep size in check, especially if maximizing the square footage potential wasn’t a priority to begin with.
Do I need a permit for an ADU?
Yes. You’ll need to get your building permit approved by the city planning department before you jump into construction.
The time frame for getting your permit approved can be a bit…uncertain. Most ADU projects in LA take somewhere between four and six months to get permits but wait times can vary depending on the jurisdiction and sometimes situation-specific circumstances. If you’re building an ADU in a coastal zone, for example, expect the time frame to lengthen, as there will be more hoops to jump through.
Even though this process can be time-consuming, never skip it. Not only could you face a lawsuit if a tenant got injured inside the unpermitted ADU, but the city could force you to pay hefty fines if they find out. And the worst-case scenario? You have to tear down your ADU entirely.
Long story short, it’s much better to be patient!
In addition to a standard building permit, LA requires an easement permit if your ADU is going to be within 10 feet of a utility line.
Also, if you plan to build in a Coastal Overlay zone, you are generally required to get a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) from the Coastal Commission or local government with a certified Local Coastal Program (LCP). Getting a permit may take longer than normal, but approval is more likely today than in previous years! And you may get a break on permitting if your ADU is within an existing structure and doesn’t require major renovations (e.g., roof, foundation, etc.)! Mostly, it’s really important to make sure that your ADU will not have adverse effects on the environment. You can access the Coastal Development Permit here!
Read on for more information about the permitting process in Los Angeles.
Will my ADU need a parking spot in Los Angeles?
Good news! You are not required to provide a parking space for your ADU if:
- You are located within a ½ mile of walking distance to public transit (bus or rail stop)
- You are one block from a designated car share pickup or drop-off location
- You are within an applicable historical district
- Your ADU is contained within an existing structure
- A garage, carport, or parking structure was demolished in conjunction with ADU construction
Check to see if any of these exceptions apply to your property!
How long will it take to design and build my ADU in Los Angeles?
On average, ADUs take between 12 – 18 months from design to construction completion.
Surprised? There are a lot of factors that go into making an ADU happen.
There are four main phases: financing, design, permitting, and construction. Each phase has its own timeline, which can sometimes be impacted by factors entirely outside of your control.
Take the supply chain, for example. During the pandemic, there was a huge surge in home renovation projects. This made getting your hands on certain supplies like lumber rather challenging. You might even remember these difficulties firsthand!
Unique lot characteristics can also throw a wrench into things, as well as the backlog of work at your city’s planning department or simply bad weather conditions.
If you’re someone who hates having idle hands, no problem. There are always plenty of things that you can do to help your project keep moving forward. And should you work with Maxable, we’ll provide you with a customized ADU roadmap that explains how to prepare for each step! Contact us for more info!
Can I rent out my ADU in Los Angeles?
Absolutely! ADUs make great spaces for long-term tenants.
But renting out in the short term? Not so much. Unless your ADU is approved for residential use and the person living there can prove it is their primary residence for at least 6 months out of the year, it cannot be rented out short-term (on sites like Airbnb).
Regardless, opting to rent out your ADU is a great way to earn substantial passive income. So, how much are we talking about?
The average long-term rental in LA is $2,500. But depending on the size of your ADU, you could rent out the space for anywhere between $1,200 – $5,000 a month. There’s hardly a better way to afford an early retirement, a trip abroad, and more! And don’t forget the help it provides those looking for more affordable housing options. Truly a win-win scenario!
Consider Kylee and Steven’s success story, for instance. In 2017, they found the perfect property to buy. The only problem was its $1.2M price tag, which was especially daunting for a young couple. But they saw light at the end of the tunnel the moment they considered the 400 square-foot ADU above the garage.
The ADU was in dire need of a makeover, and that’s just what Kylee and Steven got to work doing. It wasn’t long before they began renting the new and improved property and generating substantial passive income, allowing them to use their ADU to pay off their mortgage!
Check out the full video tour of their ADU here.
Plan, hire, and manage your ADU project with Maxable!
While times change, the need for housing does not. After consulting with thousands of homeowners and helping hundreds complete ADUs, we’re more passionate than ever about accessory dwelling units!
Building an ADU is a big but rewarding commitment. At Maxable, we’re here to walk you through every step of the way. We’re eager to share our knowledge and connect you to designers and general contractors with proven experience in Los Angeles. That way, you’ll have the proper support from beginning to end.
Ready to get started? Sign up for an ADU planning call today to chat with one of our experts.