The ABCs of ADUs

By Andrew Manning

On January 1, 2023, two bills took effect in California: AB-2221 and SB-897, and they’re both about accessory dwelling units, more affectionately known as ADUs. While ADUs have been a hot topic of real estate conversation for a while, this new legislation has once again put them in the ADU spotlight. 

According to the official staff report, these two laws “impose further restrictions on local authority to regulate ADUs and JADUs (Junior ADUs), including with respect to height limits, setbacks, application review and denial procedures, unpermitted structures and JADU configurations.” 

Here’s a general breakdown of what they mean: 

  • AB-2221: When denying an ADU or Junior ADU (JADU) permit , this bill requires cities to provide a description detailing how the applicant can remedy their application for approval. 
  • SB-897: Cities are prohibited from denying a permit application for an ADU or JADU due to “nonconforming zoning conditions, building code violations, or unpermitted structures that do not present a threat to public health and safety and are not affected by the construction of the accessory dwelling unit. 

It’s important to understand the legality around ADUs but it’s just as noteworthy to explore the practicality of having an ADU on your property. For an average-sized home, (anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 square feet) ADUs are commonly converted garage space – about 400 to 800 square feet – that owners either rent out or use as a guest home, office space or even a large playroom for the kids. 

In larger homes, ADUs are less often rental properties and more often a legal second residence on the property, with its own address and a separate electric, gas and plumbing, as per the guidelines for an ADU.

But throwing up some drywall and converting unused garage space into a makeshift living room does not an ADU make. You can have a bonus room that isn’t a legal ADU. A rec room that isn’t an ADU or a pool house that again, (say it with me) isn’t an ADU. ADUs must have separate gas and electric lines with their own separate meter, which can get expensive if the ADU is a long distance from the street. Converting a garage into an ADU is a pricey endeavor, especially as the price of building materials goes up; it can cost anywhere between $60,000 and $100,000, or even as much as $250,000. 

It’s not a quick fix by any means but if you’re contemplating adding an ADU to your property, consult with your real estate professional – or book a call with me – to discuss whether the build is practical for your neighborhood or justified by the overall price of your house. 

An ADU could also make the difference between moving and having much-needed flex space. An ADU – converted or built – can keep your overflow lean, create additional storage space or add that extra office or bedroom you might be seeking in a property elsewhere. 

If you’re considering a garage conversion, it’s important to make sure you have somewhere to store your cars now that you’ll be sacrificing that covered parking. If you’re planning to rent out the ADU, is there sufficient street parking for your future tenants? If you’re converting the garage, do you have a place to store your cars? One option is to add hardscaping to the front lawn, transforming that space into a multi-purpose area. 

So, those are the basic ABCs of ADUs. Stay tuned for more information about ADUs, coming your way soon. And if you’d like to chat about purchasing a property with an ADU, converting a garage into an ADU, renting out an ADU or the resale value of an ADU, get in touch!

Andrew Manning • REALTOR® • Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties • DRE: 00941825 • 818-380-2147 •