Is California’s ADU Law The Beginning Of A New Era In Housing?


In a bold move to address the state’s crippling housing crisis, California has passed a landmark law allowing homeowners to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) on their properties with unprecedented ease. The new legislation, which went into effect on January 1, 2020, has sparked a wave of optimism among housing advocates, policymakers, and homeowners alike. But is this law truly the beginning of a new era in housing, or is it just a drop in the bucket?

The Housing Crisis in California

California’s housing crisis is no secret. The state is home to some of the most expensive housing markets in the country, with the median home price hovering around $650,000. The shortage of affordable housing has led to skyrocketing rents, increased homelessness, and a mass exodus of low- and middle-income residents. According to the California Association of Realtors, the state needs to build an additional 1.8 million homes to meet demand.

What are ADUs?

ADUs, also known as granny flats or in-law units, are secondary dwellings built on a single-family property. They can be attached to the primary residence, detached, or even converted from existing structures like garages or basements. ADUs offer a unique solution to the housing crisis by providing additional housing units without the need for new land acquisition or massive infrastructure investments.

The New Law: A Game-Changer for Housing?

The new law, signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in October 2019, streamlines the process for homeowners to build ADUs by:

1. Eliminating parking requirements: Homeowners no longer need to provide additional parking spaces for ADUs, a major hurdle in densely populated areas.
2. Reducing fees: Cities and counties are prohibited from charging excessive fees for ADU permits, making it more affordable for homeowners to build.
3. Simplifying the approval process: The law establishes a ministerial approval process, which means that local governments must approve ADU applications that meet certain standards, without the need for lengthy public hearings or discretionary reviews.

The Impact of the Law

Proponents of the law argue that it will have a significant impact on California’s housing crisis. By making it easier and more affordable for homeowners to build ADUs, the law is expected to:

1. Increase the supply of affordable housing: ADUs can provide a more affordable option for renters, helping to address the state’s severe shortage of affordable housing.
2. Reduce homelessness: By providing additional housing units, ADUs can help take people off the streets and into stable housing.
3. Promote sustainable development: ADUs can be built using existing infrastructure, reducing the need for sprawl and preserving open spaces.

Challenges Ahead

While the law is a significant step forward, there are still challenges to overcome. These include:

1. Zoning restrictions: Some cities and counties may still have zoning laws that prohibit ADUs or make it difficult to build them.
2. Financing: Homeowners may struggle to secure financing for ADU construction, which can be costly.
3. Neighborhood resistance: Some neighbors may resist the construction of ADUs, citing concerns about density, parking, and property values.


California’s ADU law is a bold step towards addressing the state’s housing crisis. By making it easier for homeowners to build ADUs, the law has the potential to increase the supply of affordable housing, reduce homelessness, and promote sustainable development. While challenges remain, the law marks a significant shift in the way California approaches housing policy. As other states grapple with their own housing crises, California’s ADU law may serve as a model for innovative solutions to this pressing national issue.


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