Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU)

If you want to add value to your home while receiving a steady rent check every month, you might want to add an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) to your California home. These special types of miniature homes help renters find calm and comfortable places to stay that are far away from the apartment life, and they assist homeowners in paying for the ever-increasing costs of owning property in California. Before you decide whether or not an ADU is right for you, however, you'll want to learn everything you can about these home additions and the process of adding an ADU to your property.

What Are Accessory Dwelling Units?

An ADU is a separate area of your home that you can rent out to a tenant. ADUs come in all shapes and sizes, and they may be physically connected to your home or be located in separate outbuildings. Over the last few decades, ADUs have become more and more popular due to the increasing cost of housing in California, and they are generally located in relatively affluent suburban neighborhoods. Owners of ADUs usually do their best to make these dwellings attractive and polished, and they serve as excellent alternatives to the other types of affordable housing that are offered in California.

The state of California governs the construction, zoning, and occupancy of ADUs, and individual counties and cities may also have their own regulations regarding these types of dwellings. Most ADUs are relatively small, but they are equipped with kitchens, bathrooms, and everything else that Californians need to stay comfortable.

What Are the Benefits of Accessory Dwelling Units?

When you construct an ADU on your property, you'll start receiving rental revenue as soon as you find your first tenant. Since property taxes in California are the highest in the country, many California homeowners struggle to make ends meet even if they have high-paying jobs. Utilities and other home expenses are also pricey in California, which leads homeowners in this state to search for alternate forms of revenue.

There's also a moral component to owning an ADU; when you construct one of these dwellings on your property, you give someone with fewer advantages than you a place to stay that's comfortable and serene. While many ADU tenants and homeowners never interact beyond what is strictly necessary, when you invite someone else to stay on your property, the potential for a lasting friendship is born.

Renting out an ADU is very different from renting out a room in your home. While homeowners who rent out single bedrooms usually have to share bathroom and kitchen facilities with their tenants, ADUs are fully self-contained units that have everything your tenants need to cook, bathe, and sleep. These types of dwellings even have their own entry doors, which makes it possible to forget about the existence of your tenant until the first of the month if that's your preference.

If you decide to sell your home, you'll find that your ADU adds value to your property. Some home buyers may even be looking specifically for homes that feature ADUs, which makes your home more noticeable on the market. If nothing else, an ADU adds to the total square footage of the inhabitable space on your property, and even if the buyer of your home doesn't rent the ADU to tenants, they will certainly find some use for your accessory dwelling.

What Is the Research Regarding ADU Benefits?

There is a significant body of research surrounding ADUs and their impact on communities. For instance, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) conducted a case study that examined the effects of ADUs throughout the country. This case study concluded that ADUs increase a community's housing supply and that they are especially convenient for elderly and disabled persons. HUD also concluded that the extra income provided by ADUs helps homeowners cover their costs of living.

This case study went on to demonstrate that since ADUs can be designed to look just like surrounding architecture, they maintain the compatibility of an established neighborhood and preserve community character. The report also mentions that alternatives to ADUs, such as rezoning of single-family neighborhoods, have significantly detrimental effects on communities.

Another case study conducted by the planning commission in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania found that ADUs provide excellent housing options for people in the workforce. The authors of this case study concluded that ADUs expand housing options without incurring unrealistic development costs, and they also noted that ADUs are usually very high-quality despite their low investment requirements.

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, the Urban Land Institute, the Center for Community Innovation, and a number of other organizations worked together to create an ADU case study titled "Jumpstarting the Market for Accessory Dwelling Units." This case study focused on the effects of ADUs in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, and it found that, in each city, obstacles had been overcome and legislation had been passed that normalized the construction and occupancy of ADUs.

The ADU movement has faced a number of difficulties in gaining acceptance, but this case study points out that these types of small dwellings have become incredibly successful in a number of major urban centers. It concludes that the trajectory of ADU acceptance is upward and that these types of dwellings will only become more and more popular as the years go by.

A variety of other case studies have also been conducted on the subject of ADUs, and they have all reached relatively similar conclusions. It is apparent that any objections to ADUS are overblown and that ADUs bring a great deal of value to their communities. Based on the data amassed in these studies, it is fair to conclude that constructing an ADU is a financially sound choice that benefits the community.

What Types of Accessory Dwelling Units Are There?

As you consider building an ADU on your property, you should become well-versed in all of the different types of ADUs that you can construct. The kind of ADU that you build will be dependent on the conditions of your individual piece of property, and you may have multiple areas on your property that are good candidates for these additional housing units. Here are a few examples of the types of ADUs that other homeowners have built on their properties:

  • Backyard Cottages: These types of ADUs take up portions of the backyards of their properties. In some cases, it may be possible to convert a shed, barn, or pool house into a functional ADU, or it may be necessary to construct an entirely new building. These types of ADUs are completely separate from the property's main house, which provides extra privacy. However, providing amenities like electricity and plumbing may be more difficult for detached ADUs like backyard cottages. Of course, it will be necessary to confirm that there is enough room in your backyard to build an ADU before you choose to construct a backyard cottage.
  • Basement Apartments: If you have a basement in your home, it's likely that you'd be able to convert it into an ADU. Basements usually have the perfect dimensions for additional housing units, and they frequently aren't used to their full potential. If you decide to go the route of building a basement apartment, you'll need to make sure that your basement has a separate entrance that doesn't go through your main living area. Also, you'll most likely need to install new flooring, walls, and a ceiling in your basement to make it livable. It may also be necessary to run plumbing and electricity into your basement before you're able to rent it out to tenants. As a final touch, you might want to replace the windows that are currently in your basement with larger options that let in more light.
  • Garage Apartments: These types of ADUs are among the most common. Many homes in California have detached garages, and they may already having living spaces built on top of them. If not, it's easy to convert an over-garage attic into an ADU, and most spaces above garages already have their own entry doors. While it may still be necessary to replace the walls and floors of your over-garage space, garage apartment ADUs are among the easiest to construct and maintain.
  • Other Spaces: When it comes to accessory dwelling units, you can make practically any space into a separate home with a little bit of hard work and imagination. If you have extra space on your property, you can potentially convert it into an ADU, and one common example of an alternative ADU space is a master bedroom with a porch. If you build steps up to the porch and install a sturdy lock, you can transform this space into an ADU. Before you proceed with your ADU plans, however, it's important to check in with your local planning office, and you may also want to contract the services of expert ADU builders.

How Do You Build Accessory Dwelling Units?

Building an ADU is a lot like building a house. You'll need to acquire a lot of materials, and you'll need to dedicate a significant amount of time and manpower. Some types of ADUs require less work than others to build, but each ADU in existence was brought into being through sheer willpower and effort. Whether you plan to build your ADU from scratch or modify an existing area on your property, you'll need to be well-versed on all of the information you'll need to know before embarking on this process. Here are some more details on the two types of ADU construction to help you better understand your options:

  • Remodeling: When it comes to constructing an ADU, remodeling is definitely the easiest way to proceed. If you already have an area on your property that has four walls, a foundation, and a ceiling, it's relatively easy to convert it into a functional ADU. Depending on the space in question, you may need a significant number of different kinds of materials, or you may be able to complete your ADU with just the materials that you find around your house.

As you remodel an area to serve as an ADU, just remember that it needs to be livable for your tenants. While it might be tempting to cut certain corners like not having separate kitchen and bathroom sinks, keep in mind that prospective tenants will probably balk at the prospect of doing their dishes in the bathroom. You'll also need to properly insulate your new space, and it's important to decorate it thoroughly. Whether you recreate all of the comforts of your own home in your ADU or stick to the basic necessities, many of the tenants who have an eye out for ADUs appreciate renting a place that's already set up with furnishings, decor, and simple amenities like paper towels.

  • New Building: If you're planning to build an ADU from scratch, it's almost certain that you'll need professional help. Even if you're an adept at home renovations, creating an entirely new building is a process that takes a significant amount of work and heavy equipment to accomplish, and you may find halfway through that you don't have the time or resources necessary to complete your task if you don't acquire help from professionals during the planning stages of your project.

If you build a cottage in your back yard, for instance, you'll need to complete a number of tasks that are unnecessary for a simple renovation. You'll need to lay a foundation, which usually requires the help of an excavator and dozens of bags of concrete. From there, you'll need to build the frame of your ADU, which requires large, heavy beams of wood that you'll need to carry up ladders. To finish up the structure, you'll need to add plywood, siding, insulation, drywall, and a number of other waterproofing and environmental components.

It's only after you've completed these tasks that you'll be ready to take on the steps that are required whenever you're building an ADU of any kind. Once your cottage has been built, you'll need to paint it, decorate it, and add furniture. If you want to take at least some ownership over your project, you might want to go over the details of your plans with the professionals, get help with certain aspects like digging the foundation and framing, and go from there by yourself.

What Are the Zoning Requirements for ADUs?

When it comes to zoning, you'll need to consult with your city or county of residence for guidance. Every area has different laws, and even the different towns that make up single metro areas may have different regulations when it comes to the construction of ADUs. If you live in Los Angeles County, however, there is a single group of rules that governs the construction of ADUs for every city and municipality within this county's jurisdiction. The Department of Regional Planning (DRP) oversees the construction of ADUs in L.A. county, and they have laid out a simple set of rules for which types of zoning designations allow for ADUs. These zoning types are:

  • R-A;
  • R-1;
  • R-2;
  • R-3;
  • R-4;
  • A-1;
  • A-2;
  • Or any other zone that allows single-family residences.

If you're not sure how your property is zoned or if you have any questions, you can reach out to the DRP for clarification.

What Are the Laws Surrounding ADUs in California?

In 2017, the Governor of California signed two new bills into law: SB 229 and AB 494. Together, these two laws clarified the legal framework surrounding ADUs in the state of California, and they both came into effect on January 1, 2018. While these two laws update the legislation surrounding ADUs in the California in general, your local city or county will always have the final say when it comes to the approval or disapproval of your ADU plan. Legislation surrounding ADUs is constantly being updated to better fit the needs of California residents, so it's important to keep abreast of continuing changes to this body of legislation by visiting the official California Department of Housing and Community Development website for ADU legislation information.

How Do You Apply for an ADU?

If you live in Los Angeles County, you apply for an ADU through the DRP. To get started, you'll need to submit a site plan application, but before you do, you'll need to have a clear picture in your mind of the exact type of dwelling that you want to build. If you work with the right ADU remodeling experts, they will be able to help you through the entire process and make sure that the paperwork you end up submitting to the DRP is in proper order before it's final. There are a number of other types of paperwork that you'll also need to submit, so make sure that either you or your remodeler take a look at the DRP accessory dwelling unit information page for more details.

In addition to considerations of zoning, the DRP also has a number of development standards that you'll need to pass before you're given the green light to build an ADU. For instance, the planned ADU must measure more than 150 square feet, and the maximum living area must not exceed 1,200 square feet. The living room or bedroom area must measure at least 70 square feet, and there must be areas set aside for a bathroom and a kitchen. You can take a look at the full list of development standards here, and your remodeling company will also be well-versed in these county-mandated ADU requirements.

After your application has been reviewed, the DRP will reach out with their decision on your property. If your first application is rejected, don't be discouraged; you'll simply need to learn from your mistakes and get a better idea of what the DRP is looking for in terms of new ADU units. With a little bit of practice and the help of qualified experts, your plans for your new home addition will soon be met with overwhelming approval.

Are There Any Objections to ADUs?

Over the years, a notable controversy has emerged surrounding ADUs. While people who own ADUs are able to get more use out of their property and help house people in need, some social conservatives worry that the increased prevalence of ADUs could bring down neighboring property value and draw the wrong crowd. However, there is nothing about ADUs that inherently creates these effects. If an ADU is professionally and tastefully built, it can actually add to the value of the property where it is constructed and the value of the entire neighborhood. Also, if the owners of ADUs properly vet their renters, there's no reason to fear increased crime, trash, or other undesirable consequences.

Almost everyone in California has been exposed to the ADU controversy in one way or the other, and there's no definitive answer to whether or not these accessory dwellings have more benefits than they do detractors. Ultimately, it's a matter of how you build your ADU that determines its value, and homeowners who have embarked on the ADU process and did it right stand as testament to the immense value that these dwellings can impart on their properties and their ways of life. 

Find Help with Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) Near Me

As you embark on the process of building an ADU on your property, it's important to remember that you don't have to complete this project on your own. In fact, if you want a high-quality ADU that will impress your tenants and stand the test of time, it's best to rely on expert remodelers to bring your dreams to life. To learn more about the best ways to convert an existing area on your property or build a new ADU from scratch, reach out to the team at Los Angeles Home Remodeling at 424-369-4765 today.

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