New Rules About Accessory Dwelling Units

In 2017, the State of California passed a law preventing local governments from unreasonably restricting homeowners from adding a second unit to their property, commonly referred to as mother-in-law units. Officially, they are called Accessory Dwelling Units or ADUs. An ADU must be big enough to include a kitchen, a bathroom, and living space—and it can either be attached to the main house or detached as a separate unit.

Just recently, another law was passed allowing homeowners to sell their detached ADU separately from their house. I’m not sure this is a wise idea, but it is an option. My understanding is that once there’s an ADU, updated zoning laws allow homeowners to subdivide their property and sell off the extra unit (unless CC&Rs restrict this). CC&Rs are the covenants, conditions and restrictions the govern property use in a given neighborhood or area. Detached ADUs can also be sold similarly to condos, that is, you only buy the structure, not the underlying land.

Why all the laws governing new ways to create housing? I believe it goes back to Governor Newsom’s promise four years ago to create 3 million new homes between then and now to meet the demand for housing in California—yet, here we are four years later with only a quarter of those homes built. Everyone agrees we have a housing shortage in California. Not everyone agrees on how to fix it. Personally, I think the government should get out of the way and let the market balance supply with demand, but no one asked me.

Instead, the government keeps passing new laws to deal with the lack of housing. They change laws on zoning and ADUs, encouraging higher density housing since California’s most populous areas keep drawing more people. Statewide, since 2017 when the new ADU law went into effect, 17 percent of newly built, free-standing homes in California have been ADUs.

In Ukiah and Mendocino County, land is not at a premium the way it is in the Bay Area or the Los Angeles basin. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be eventually.

Locally, we do have a housing shortage and more ADUs may help address that problem; however, there are some drawbacks. In the older Westside, for example, if a third of homeowners added an ADU, we’d see significantly more traffic and a decrease in the availability of street parking. I’m also concerned about how our sewer system would manage the increased load.

Another potential problem could arise if people do not position their new ADUs appropriately. Imagine your neighbor’s ADU positioned only ten feet from your house with 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 property. My only concern about the loosening of ADU restrictions is that current homeowners may be on the receiving end of a bait and switch situation. They bought their homes with certain rules in place; now the rules are changing. I don’t expect to see too many new ADUs with construction costs currently so high right now, but time will tell. If you feel strongly about this issue, consider contacting a member of the City of Ukiah Planning Commission or a city council member.

If you have questions about property management or real estate, please contact me at or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery.

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