AB 670: Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

By Jackie E. Quinn, Esq.

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In recent years, the California Legislature has enacted several laws aimed at limiting the authority of local agencies to restrict accessory dwelling units (“ADUs”) and junior ADUs and streamlining the construction of ADUs and junior ADUs.  Up until now, state law hasn’t addressed private restrictions on ADUs, such as in an association’s CC&Rs.

However, effective January 1, 2020, AB 670 adds section 4751 to the Common Interest Development Act that will prohibit associations from “unreasonably” restricting the construction of an ADU or junior ADU on a lot zoned for single-family residential use.  (An association’s governing documents may continue to prohibit the construction of an ADU on a lot zoned for multi-family residential use. )  The intent of the Legislature in passing this bill is to encourage the construction of ADUs or junior ADUs that are either owner-occupied or are used for rentals for longer than thirty (30) days.

An ADU, sometimes referred to as mother-in-law units or granny flats, is a dwelling unit designed to serve as independent living quarters for at least one person. These dwelling units can be both attached and detached from the primary dwelling unit. A junior ADU is simply a unit that is 500 square feet in size or less, attached to the home, and has entrances from within the primary dwelling unit as well as from outside.  A garage, carport or covered parking structure on the lot may also be converted to an ADU or junior ADU.

AB 670 makes any governing document void and unenforceable to the extent that it prohibits, or effectively prohibits, the construction or use of ADUs or junior ADUs.  However, AB 670 does allow an association to place “reasonable restrictions” on ADUs and junior ADUs in common interest developments, as long as the restrictions do not discourage or effectively prohibit ADU or junior ADU construction or unreasonably increase the cost to construct them.

Although the new law does not define what sort of restrictions are “reasonable,” the law does not require an association to follow the same exact standards that the city or county has adopted concerning ADUs or junior ADUs, leaving open the option for an association to adopt its own “reasonable restrictions” that may differ from those of local agencies.  Such “reasonable restrictions” may include requirements related to aesthetics and design of the new unit, submitting and receiving approval of an architectural application, size of the new unit, use of shared facilities in the community, and parking.

There are bound to be disagreements over what constitutes a “reasonable restriction.”  What constitutes a “reasonable restriction” for one association may not qualify as “reasonable” for another. Therefore, it is important for associations to conduct a diligent inquiry into what restrictions are truly reasonable for their community and members before adopting ADU guidelines for members to follow.

With respect to new provisions that local agencies must follow, sections 65852.2 and 65852.22 of the Government Code set forth specific standards that local agencies must follow in adopting local ordinances related to ADUs and junior ADUs.  For instance, local ordinances cannot establish a maximum square footage requirement for an ADU that is less than 850 square feet, or 1,000 square feet if the ADU contains more than one bedroom.  The local ordinance also cannot require a property owner who built an ADU to occupy the primary home on the property or the ADU. In addition, a local ordinance may not impose a requirement to replace lost parking spaces somewhere else on the property when converting a garage to an ADU.  While an association may adopt ADU restrictions that differ from local regulations, it is important and helpful for associations to be aware of their city’s or county’s local ordinances concerning ADUs and the ways in which the association’s restrictions vary, as residents are bound to raise comparisons.