From home offices to music studios, California homeowners have found a number of creative reasons to build secondary suites in their backyards.
But regardless of their use, ADUs all have one thing in common: State law considers them dwellings, even when they are not being used for housing.
This discrepancy has implications for a statewide process known as Regional Housing Needs Allocation, which has assigned each local government a number of new housing units they must accommodate in their housing elements between 2021 and 2029. City and county officials can count all ADUs toward their allocations without having to verify whether a given ADU will actually hit the housing market during that time, according to the Department of Housing and of the state’s community development.
ADUs, also known as casitas or granny flats, have historically been used as inexpensive housing for students, older parents, or other family members. With California’s current housing crisis, lawmakers have passed laws in recent years to simplify ADU building requirements in an effort to provide more housing to a wider range of potential tenants. State law requires ADUs to meet the standards of a habitable unit by having components such as kitchens and bathrooms, but no law requires anyone to live there.
Based on interviews with contractors and landlords, most ADUs are used as rental units or to house family members. But other owners have used them as home offices, art studios, and for other purposes that promote their work-life balance or support a hobby.
Liz Ream, who lives in Vista with her husband and three children, completed an ADU on her property in fall 2021, after hiring a contractor and completing a construction process that took about six months. She uses it as a studio for her commercial photography business.
“We were just looking for ways to stay home more while contributing to our finances,” she said.
Ream said she first thought about adding a shed to her property, but decided an ADU would be a better investment.
The county government has counted her ADU as a middle-income unit in its annual housing progress report because she lives just east of the Vista town lines in the unincorporated county. from San Diego.
San Diego County has received an allocation of approximately 171,000 new units for the current RHNA cycle. The county’s unincorporated areas are to accommodate 6,700 such units, including 1,165 moderate-income units.
Whitney Hill, co-founder of Oceanside-based ADU outsourcing company SnapADU, also said appraised value is a strong motivation to build an ADU, even if there are no plans to rent it out. a tenant.
“They also gain more flexibility to lease the unit down the road, which also supports better resale value,” said Hill, whose company built Ream’s ADU.
Derek Berg, founder and president of MADesign and Drafting Services, said the ADUs his company has built across San Diego can be broken down into thirds: one-third uses them for a family member, one-third uses them as rental and the last third party uses them. them for other purposes. He said he’s built a few as music studios and other “fun” ideas that help his clients personalize their properties.
“My clients are spread across the board when it comes to intent,” Berg said. “But those are the three big reasons why I raced.”
ADUs and new laws that streamline their construction pose another set of concerns in coastal cities, where new developments are typically scrutinized for impacts such as ocean view blockages.
“State law is to allow ADUs to cut corners to jump to the finish line without going through the normal process on the assumption that they were going to provide accommodation,” the mayor said. of Del Mar, Dwight Worden. “But if you don’t force people to live there, you don’t get that benefit.”
According to Del Mar’s Housing Element Annual Progress Report for 2021, the city has 27 ADUs so far that will count towards its required sixth RHNA cycle of 163 housing units. Based on a review of development applications, 12 of those landlords indicated that they did not plan to lease their ADUs.
Worden is the author of a proposed state law amendment that would allow cities to write their own ordinances requiring ADUs to be used as housing units. He shared it with the League of California Cities and said at a recent council meeting that the city could try to find a sponsor in the Legislative Assembly.
Assembly Members Tasha Boerner Horvath and Chris Ward, both Democrats whose districts include North Coast County, declined to comment. Nathan Fletcher, chairman of the county board of supervisors, also declined to comment.
State Senate Chairman Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said in a statement, “Although my office has not been aware of this issue previously, we will be monitoring it in the future. “