New State Law Governs Granny Units


Recently, the State of California passed a law eliminating the ability of local governments to unreasonably restrict homeowners from adding a second unit to their property. One of the first considerations was to change the name of these units. They are no longer mother-in-law units or granny units; they are now Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).

The State regulation defines minimum guidelines for ADUs, but the language is still a bit vague, saying local jurisdictions cannot “unreasonably” limit square footage. Clearly, the second unit must be big enough to include a kitchen, bathroom, and living space. As of this writing, the City Planning Commission is considering a 1200 square foot maximum for a detached ADU (one that is not part of the main dwelling), which does, in fact, seems reasonable.

If you’re a homeowner who may want to build a detached ADU, one of the biggest benefits of this new law is the prohibition for local governments to charge any water or sewer hookup fees (the combination of which can run about $20,000 in Ukiah). The law also precludes charging additional service fees, but it does not prevent higher rates based on usage. Since water is metered, your water bill will go up, and increased water usage can impact your sewer bill, too.

When most people think of ADUs, they picture a separate structure, but you can create an ADU inside your house. Consider, for example, creating a separate living space above a garage, one with its own entrance. The ADU would share a roof with the main house, but have plenty of privacy. If you create an ADU within your house, there is no size limitation with regard to square footage; however, you cannot make the ADU larger than 50 percent of your house. Honestly, this rule is a little silly because there’s nothing stopping you from living in your ADU and renting your main house, but such is the nature of bureaucracy. I do think it’s good to enable people to divide their homes. This allows empty nesters or single people who want to downsize to stay in their home rather than having to sell and relocate.

On the bright side, ADUs may help reduce the housing shortage in Ukiah. There are some drawbacks, however. In the older Westside, for example, if a third of homeowners added an ADU, we’d see a significant increase in traffic and decrease in the availability of street parking. I’m also concerned about how our issue-laden sewer system would manage the increased load.

Another potential problem could arise if people do not position their new ADUs appropriately. Imagine if your neighbor built an ADU five feet from their back fence that aligned with your side yard, where your main dwelling is only five feet from the property line. The ADU could be positioned only ten feet from your house, and potentially provide a clear view into your master bedroom. Hopefully, people will be considerate as they contemplate where to build.

All in all, I am in favor of allowing property owners to make decisions affecting the future of their properties. My only concern about the loosening of ADU restrictions is that current homeowners bought their homes knowing the rules at the time of purchase, and now the rules are changing. I don’t really expect to see too many new ADUs with construction costs currently in excess of $200 per square foot, but things can always change.

If you feel strongly about this issue, consider contacting a member of the City of Ukiah Planning Commission or a city councilmember. Better yet, attend upcoming public hearings. They’re very informative.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.


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