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Want to convert a garage or build a tiny home in your backyard? It’s now easier

By Thomas J. Sullivan–
Homeowners seeking to add a secondary dwelling on their property are finding it easier to do so, thanks to some changes in state law and city zoning codes that were adopted as a way to address the state’s housing crisis.

Secondary dwellings and other forms of independent living units, now both called “accessory dwelling units” or ADUs, are either detached or attached to a primary residential structure and provide permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking and sanitation. ADUs can also provide supplemental income to the property owner.

“Most (ADUs) are ‘in-law’ type units designed for additional older family members who would be living in the residence,” Citrus Heights Associate City Planner Alison Bermudez told The Sentinel.

“We’ve seen at least a dozen permits issued so far since the program began,” Bermudez said, compared with an average of less than one per year prior the city’s ordinance changing a year-and-a-half ago. “We’re likely to see more applicants as residents learn more about the ordinance and what it allows.”

The chief change in the program was the city’s elimination of a parking requirement that now increases the range of single-family residences which can participate in the program, Bermudez said. Garage conversions into ADUs or living space are no longer required to have replacement parking, Bermudez said.

Tiny homes with a permanent foundation qualify as an ADU, but Bermudez said movable versions built on wheels are not permitted in Citrus Heights. She added that homeowners should obtain a copy of the city ordinance and check with the Planning Division to determine what specific zoning or construction permits may apply in their situation.

The city considers ADUs to be an affordable way for homeowners to add a second smaller dwelling on their property and rent it out, or house aging parents, Bermudez said. “We still want to make sure that residents do it legally and make sure that people are living in safe spaces.”

The ordinance puts a 1,200-square-foot cap as the maximum size for detached ADUs. Applications are required to be processed within 120 days of an application being submitted, as specified by state law to ensure the approval process doesn’t stall unnecessarily.

If the city determines that an ADU can be created on a residential property, a building permit is required for converted spaces or new construction to ensure that the living area meets all the building and safety codes.

Related: What you need to know about Citrus Heights’ new rental inspection program

In mid-2017, the Citrus Heights Planning Commission unanimously voted to recommend the new set of draft regulations that modified regulations on accessory dwelling units.

Assembly Bill 2299 and Senate Bill 1069, which came into effect in January 2017, sought to create more affordable housing in the state by requiring that cities drop certain difficult-to-meet building regulations in order to make it easier to add secondary dwellings on single-family residential properties.

When passed in the California legislature last year, the housing bills received bi-partisan support, with Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama) and Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova) each voting for the bills. Both Nielsen and Cooley represent Citrus Heights and the surrounding region in the state legislature.

Additional answers to commonly asked questions are included below, with information taken directly from the city’s website:

How do I get a permit?
Plans will need to be submitted in order to obtain a Building Permit. Pick up an application package from the Building and Safety Division for a list of plans and information that is required for your project. Additional information may be found within the Zoning Code Section 106.42.210, or by contacting the Planning Division at (916) 727-4740.

Which kinds of properties can add ADUs?
An accessory dwelling (ADU), also commonly referred to as a granny flat, may be added to residential properties that are developed with a single-family home. Properties with multi-family units, including duplexes, may not add an ADU to the property.

Are there any design requirements?
The exterior of the ADU should be compatible in appearance with the primary home and utilize quality exterior materials such as high-quality wood, stucco, stone, or masonry. Additionally, an ADU that is 15 feet or less from a residential unit on an adjacent parcel shall not have windows that directly face windows on the other unit. A detached ADU located closer than 10 feet to a side lot line or 20 feet from a rear lot line shall have no 2nd floor windows facing the side or rear except for obscure glass.

Are setbacks required?
The placement of the ADU must comply with the same setbacks that apply to the primary home. The setbacks are determined by the zoning district for the parcel. Refer to the Development Standards page for setbacks by zoning district. If you do not know the zoning designation for your property, you may complete an online Zoning Information Request Form.

What is the height limit of an ADU?
ADUs that are detached from the primary home may not exceed 20 feet in height. If the ADU is above a detached garage, the maximum height is 25 feet. If the ADU is attached to the primary home, the maximum allowable height is 30 feet.

How large can the second dwelling be?
An ADU attached to the primary home may be up to 60% of the size of the primary home. If the ADU is detached, the maximum allowance is 1,200 square feet, regardless of the size of the primary home. For example, if a primary home is 1,800 square feet, including attached garage space, an attached ADU may be no more than 1,080 square feet (60% of 1,800 square feet). If the secondary unit has its own attached garage, you may exempt no more than 400 square feet of the garage space in the calculation. There may be no internal doorways from the living unit to the attached garage.

Is there a maximum lot coverage area for structures?
The maximum lot coverage of all structures on a parcel must comply with the zoning requirements. Please contact the Planning Division to find out the maximum allowable lot coverage for your property.

Can I convert a garage or barn?
In some cases, an existing building (garage, barn, etc.) may be converted to living space but it should also be noted that commonly when a garage or barn is constructed, they are built for storage — not for living space — so significant structural and energy (upgrades) will probably be required.

Are there parking requirements?
Although parking should be considered when planning an ADU, the demonstration that the site can accommodate additional parking is not required.

Other facts you should know:

  • Secondary units may not be offered for sale apart from the principal unit.
  • Secondary units may have no more than 2 bedrooms.
  • Secondary units can be rented to anyone. The occupants do not have to be related to the owners of the property and do not have to be over a certain age. Also, it is not required that the owners of the primary home live on the property.
  • Your project will be reviewed to make sure that the design and placement of the secondary unit works well with the primary home and fits well into the surrounding neighborhood.
  • Secondary units may be attached to the primary home providing the secondary unit has a separate entrance.
  • All secondary dwelling units require a Building Permit and must comply with applicable building, fire, health and safety codes, as well with zoning requirements.

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