21 Things You Need to Know About Building an ADU in 2021

Whether you call them granny flats, guest houses, or in-law suites – there’s no denying that additional dwelling units are the hottest trend for the new year! Constructing an ADU is a big decision, and many homeowners have concerns about the process. To help you decide whether ADUs are right for you, we’ve compiled a list of 21 of the most common questions we hear from property owners.

Without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about building an additional dwelling unit in 2021!

1. What is the definition of an additional dwelling unit?

An additional dwelling unit or ‘ADU’ is a secondary housing unit that exists independently of the primary dwelling. Additional dwelling units must be able to accommodate independent living without relying on the features of the main house. The Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) states that ADUs should include “permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking and sanitation on the same lot as the single-family or multifamily dwelling.”

Please note: Additional dwelling units can be attached OR detached from the main structure, however mobile vehicles like campers and RVs do not qualify as ADUs based on city standards.

2. Do I need a permit to build an ADU in Los Angeles?

According to state and local laws, property owners planning to construct an ADU in Los Angeles must obtain a building permit. The LADBS must approve all project plans for new construction, although the permit process may be expedited in cases where the property owner wishes to install a prefabricated ADU.

3. Where can I build an additional dwelling unit?

To build a new ADU, your property will need to be located in a residential zoning district and the lot must be currently occupied by a primary residence. ADUs cannot be constructed on any hillside located within a Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone, as designated by the City of Los Angeles Fire Department. As a general rule, lots that are at least 3,500 sq. ft. can typically fit an ADU comfortably, while smaller lots may find that construction is simply not feasible.

4. Why should I build an ADU in Los Angeles?

Building an additional dwelling unit provides a myriad of benefits, such as extra space for adult children and visitors or new housing for elderly family members and their caregivers. Many property owners construct ADUs to generate passive rental income, which can be used to pay the mortgage of the primary residence.

5. Is there a minimum lot size to build an ADU?

According to California state law SB-13: “There is no minimum lot size required for an ADU, provided that a legal Single-Family or Multi-Family Residence exists on the property.”

6. Can I have multiple Los Angeles ADUs on one property?

According to California AB 68, landlords and homeowners can now add 2 units – an ADU and a Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit (JADU) – on any residential lot. The law also allows for the conversion of existing, non-habitable rooms, like attics, basements, garages, into legally permitted additional dwelling units.

7. What are the types of Los Angeles ADUs?

As a general rule, ADUs can be attached, detached, or the result of a conversion of existing space. Many ADUs are actually created as part of a garage conversion. In some cases, it is also possible to build your ADU as a ‘garage addition’, which is defined as a new unit that shares at least one wall with the garage. Lastly, the city recently defined a new kind of unit called a junior additional dwelling unit (JADU). These JADUs are no more than 500 square feet that can be built within a proposed or existing single-family home or accessory structure.

For a more detailed summary of the various types of ADUs, take a look at our Los Angeles ADU services!

8. Do ADUs have to connect to utilities?

In order to meet city requirements for independent living, additional dwelling units must be connected to water, sewer, and electric utilities in compliance with applicable codes. Fortunately, utility providers are prohibited from requiring an ADU applicant to install a new or separate utility connection. Homeowners can connect their ADU utilities to the connections used for the main house. This provides substantial savings because the city doesn’t need to open up the street or sidewalk to install a new access point.

9. Are ADUs required to have parking?

Some ADUs require creating a new parking space, while others do not. State legislation limits the required parking for an ADU to one parking space per unit or bedroom. In order to qualify for exemption from parking requirements, your ADU must meet at least one of the following conditions:

  1. ADU is located within one-half mile of public transit.
  2. ADU is located within an architecturally and historically significant district.
  3. ADU is part of the existing primary residence or an existing accessory structure.
  4. on-street parking permits are required, but not offered to the occupant of the ADU.
  5. there is a car-share vehicle located within one block of the ADU

10. How wide can my ADU be?

The maximum allowable width for your ADU will vary depending on the type of ADU you’re constructing. For example, an attached ADU cannot be bigger than 50% of the existing house. On the other hand, a detached ADU should not exceed 1,200 square feet. To verify width requirements and regulations, you’ll need to work directly with your ADU contractor and the Department of City Planning.

11. What are the height requirements for ADUs?

The height requirement for your additional dwelling unit will vary depending on your zoning district. A free-standing ADU should be at least 16 feet tall, however, for units created entirely within the space of an existing, legal structure, the maximum height is equal to the maximum height of the building.

12. What materials are additional dwelling units made from?

According to city regulations, your ADU must be visually compatible with the primary home and the surrounding neighborhood. This impacts the types of materials you can use in construction. Typically, it means that the ADU should be designed to have similar exterior colors, materials, roof pitch, and massing to the primary residence.

13. What is the average rental price for additional dwelling units?

Rental costs for an ADU will vary depending on the size of the structure and the number of bedrooms it contains. Based on rates shared by the LA ADU Accelerator Program, we can estimate that units are typically renting for the following prices:

  • Studio ADU — $1,369
  • One-bedroom ADU — $1,765
  • Two-bedroom ADU — $2,263
  • Three-bedroom ADU — $2,735

14. Would my ADU be rent-controlled?

As of December 2020, the city of Los Angeles does not require rent control on housing that was first occupied after February 1, 1995. However, it is technically possible to trigger rent control laws if the homeowner moves out of the primary residence and into the ADU. In such a situation, it is possible that rent control would affect the rental rates for the primary residence.

15. Can I sell my ADU separately from the primary residence?

Additional dwelling units can be rented, but they cannot be sold separately from the residence. it’s important to note that both the primary residence and the ADU may be rented independently. The property owner is not required to occupy either structure.

16. Do I need to hire a contractor for additional dwelling units?

Before you begin any home improvement project, we recommend obtaining quotes from licensed general contractors in your area. Although some projects may be completed by property owners, larger and more complex work will benefit from the guidance of a professional. Constructing an ADU is a labor-intensive and ambitious project, so it’s crucial to hire the right contractor. At Regal Construction & Remodeling, our elite team includes some of the best additional dwelling unit contractors in Los Angeles County.

17. How do I find the right ADU contractor?

Shoddy work, inexperienced subcontractors, and low-quality materials can spell disaster for your ADU project! To learn more about selecting the right contractor, we recommend reading our blog “Tips for Finding the Right Licensed General Contractor”!

18. How can I pay to build an ADU in Los Angeles?

Financing your ADU doesn’t have to be stressful! Most mortgage lenders allow you to borrow from your home equity line of credit, provided you have equity in the property. Some other options include refinancing your mortgage or obtaining a private construction loan. To obtain the best possible rates, we recommend speaking with the bank servicing your mortgage.

19. Can I list my additional dwelling unit on AirBnB?

It is possible to list your ADU for rent on AirBnB (or similar sites), provided that certain criteria are met. If the ADU was built and permitted before January 2017, you may live in your main house and offer the ADU on house-sharing sites. Unfortunately, newly constructed ADUs can only be listed if they are your personal, primary residence.

20. Are there any resources to help find tenants for my ADU?

In special circumstances, it IS possible to receive assistance from the city in locating an appropriate tenant for your ADU. The city of Los Angeles is currently running the ADU Accelerator Program, which helps homeowners to rent their accessory dwelling units to older adults facing housing insecurity. In addition to supporting their local community, homeowners also receive benefits such as tenant screening, timely and competitive rent, and landlord support. To learn more about this opportunity, visit the city’s website for more information.

21. How can I plan construction for my ADU?

Great question! To learn more about the planning process, take a look at our blog article: “How to Plan an Additional Dwelling Unit in Los Angeles

The bigger the dream,
The More Important The Team!

With Regal Construction & Remodeling, it only takes a few minutes to start building your dream home! Give us a call today!

Working with Regal Construction for Additional Dwelling Units

Since 2008, we’ve been helping homeowners with their Los Angeles home addition projects. When you contact us for an estimate, we’ll start by discussing your goals. We love to help homeowners find thoughtful and creative solutions to everyday functional problems.

Next, we will schedule a consultation. During your in-home consultation, we’ll assess the available space. At this stage, we’re going to help you ensure the functionality of your planned additional dwelling unit.

After we’ve designed your addition, we’ll move on to drafting an estimate. Our estimate gives you an expected cost breakdown for materials and labor. Our company was built on a foundation of trust and respect for our customers, so we don’t use any high-pressure sales tactics. We strive for excellence in every project, and customer satisfaction is our top priority.

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