Not (officially) in my backyard: Illegal California ADUs outpacing permitted ones

When it comes to building more of the housing that California needs, the legislative reforms making it easier to build accessory dwelling units have been a major success story: In 2023, one in every five new homes built here was an ADU, resulting in 22,802 new homes.

But there is much wider interest in ADUs than that number suggests; it only represents legally permitted and constructed ADUs. New evidence shows that even with new streamlined permitting for these “mother-in-law cottages,” hundreds of homeowners are still building them illegally.

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A study from a team of researchers at Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that even in San Jose — one of the cities at the forefront of reforming ADU permitting — the number of illegal ADUs may outnumber legal ones by more than three to one, with illegal units more prevalent in low-income and minority communities wary of high permitting costs and red tape.

Between 2016 and 2020, property owners in San Jose legally built around 291 detached units — but, using a computer vision model to analyze satellite images of San Jose, researchers estimated that another 1,045 “informal” detached ADUs were built during that time.

“Official statistics show signs of ADU progress, but what if those are just the homeowners who can easily get through the permitting process?” said Derek Ouyang, one of the paper’s authors. “They’re able to take advantage of liberalized laws, whereas people from lower-income communities cannot.”

Without an official record of these units, they aren’t counting toward the city’s goal of building 62,200 new units by 2031.

“This is an opportunity for us to identify and recognize more living units,” said Rachel Roberts, San Jose’s deputy director of code enforcement.

These “informal” units are more likely to pose a risk to tenants’ health and safety, Roberts said. For example, they may feature gas appliances in a bedroom or lack sufficient exits in case of a fire.

But they are also a risk for the owners. For one thing, insurers aren’t likely to cover illegally built units. They also make the property more difficult to sell, since the new owner would take on the risk.

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What’s more, property owners can also run into issues with tenants — like what happened in Los Angeles this fall, where an Airbnb guest squatted for 570 days at an unpermitted guesthouse in a Brentwood mansion, claiming that she didn’t owe rent because the unit didn’t have an occupancy permit.

Despite all these issues, many homeowners still choose to build ADUs without the proper permits.

“As long as we have a housing crisis that is as severe as it is, with few options for low- and moderate-income homeowners to keep their family members housed, people are going to continue to do this because it’s the lowest-cost way to put up a home,” said Denise Pinkston, founder of the Casita Coalition, which lobbies at the state and city level for policies to streamline ADU …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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