Forced to Comply with State Law, the WeHo City Council Eases Restrictions on ‘Granny Flats’

Illustration of a ‘granny flat’ (accessory dwelling unit) on a single-family home lot.

Homeowners, and now apartment building owners, will find it easier to construct accessory dwelling units (aka “granny flats”) in West Hollywood with the City Council’s revision tonight of current rules and regulations to bring the city into compliance with new state laws.

The changes will permit construction of accessory dwelling units and also junior accessory dwelling units on any residentially zoned property, whether it is zoned for single-family homes or multi-unit buildings.  The revisions will also permit such units on property zoned for a mix of commercial and residential use. Currently West Hollywood allows ADUs only in areas zoned for single-family homes. An ADU is defined as “an attached or detached residential dwelling unit, which provides complete independent living facilities for one or more persons. ADUs include permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation on the same lot as the primary residence.” A junior ADU is a unit that can share a bathroom with the main house on the property.

The Council adopted several other changes to comply with the state laws, which take effect on Jan. 1, 2020. If the Council had failed to adopt the changes, the city’s current ADU regulations would be voided and state law would apply. The other changes include:

–Allowing an ADU in a converted garage without requiring that parking in the garage be replaced, which currently is a city requirement.

–Requiring the city to give the property owner a building permit within 60 days of application.  Currently, the city has 120 days to approve an ADU in a single-family zone and issue a building permit.

–Setting limits on the size of accessory dwelling units based on the number of bedrooms. City law now states that an ADU can’t be more than half as large as the house it is attached to, with a maximum limit of 1,200 square feet. The new state laws allow the size of an ADU to be limited to half the square footage of the main dwelling but with no maximum square footage. And the city must, at a minimum, allow studio and one-bedroom ADUs to be at least 850 square feet and ADUs with two or more bedrooms to be at least 1,000 square feet.

–Ensuring that the property owner gets a building permit if the ADU meets the basic criteria. That saves the property owner from having to take a proposed addition through the city’s complex approval process, which in some cases can include reviews by the city’s Planning Commission and its Design Review Subcommittee.

The new state laws also bar cities from using subjective design standards, like those used by the West Hollywood Planning Commission’s Design Review Subcommittee, in deciding whether to permit an accessory dwelling unit.  But they do allow use of objective design standards in deciding whether the accessory unit’s design is acceptable.

The laws, which include Assembly Bills 881 and 68(1) and Senate Bill 13, are the latest in a series of laws enacted by the state legislature to override restrictive local laws that have caused the state’s housing crisis. The State of California ranks 49th in the nation in the number of housing units per person, with only Utah having fewer.  State Sen. Richard Bloom, whose 50th District includes West Hollywood, is the author of AB 881.

City Council members Lindsey Horvath and Lauren Meister argued for postponing a vote on the revisions until there was more clarity about some of the state’s requirements.

“I hate to see us jump to have to accommodate a really badly written law,” Meister said.

Meister said that it wasn’t clear whether or not a building owner would be allowed to convert a carport into an accessory dwelling unit, thus removing parking spaces. She also expressed concern that the state law would require the city to permit construction of a studio or one-bedroom ADU of at least 850 square feet and a unit with two or more bedrooms of at least 1,000 square feet. Meister said smaller-sized units would likely be less expensive to build and more affordable to rent.

Horvath expressed concern that the proposed revisions said that a second story or two-story attached ADU may not exceed the height of the primary dwelling, a limit not included in the state law. The Council agreed to remove a provision from the proposed revisions that would put that limit on the height of an attached ADU.

Another issue was the requirement in the city’s revised ordinance that leases of accessory dwelling units be for one year or more. In a letter to the city, Californians for Homeownership, a non-profit associated with the California Association of Realtors, said while the state law allows a city to require rentals of longer than 30 days, it doesn’t specifically require a one-year minimum lease

The CAR noted that recent revisions in the city’s laws now require a minimum lease of one year or more for apartment rentals but allow the rental of houses or condos for as few as 31 days. “Because the minimum lease term does not apply to all residential units in the city, it is not a residential leasing rule of general applicability, and it cannot apply to ADUs,” the CAR argued.

Mayor John D’Amico said he supported allowing two-story accessory dwelling units. D’Amico also said he supported converting carports into dwelling units. He said that would make apartment buildings sitting on top of surface-level carports more sturdy and less vulnerable to earthquake damage. D’Amico also argued that removing those carports would mean removing the driveway associated with them and allowing placement of parking spaces on the street.

Councilmember John Heilman pushed for the Council to adopt the proposed changes, noting that if the city didn’t do that by the end of the year, construction of accessory dwelling units would be governed solely by state law. Heilman said it also was unlikely that the city would see an immediate surge in construction of new ADUs and that it could always revise its ADU laws in the future, so long as it complied with state requirements.

The Council adopted the proposed revisions but stipulated that converting carports into ADUs was not permitted.  The approval came in a four-to-one vote, with Meister voting no.

CORRECTIONS: An earlier version of this story erred in saying the changes required by state law would allow the owner of an ADU to sell it separately from the house. City staff is exploring that as a possibility. But in fact, an ADU can only be sold separately as an affordable unit through a non-profit organization. The story also has been updated to clarify that the city will not limit the height of a two-story or second story attached ADU to the height of the primary dwelling.


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WeHoMikey

As if we have any street parking available now…