When you live in a high-cost-of-living area, such as Long Beach (or almost anywhere in California, for that matter), there’s always talk about how to provide more “affordable housing.” The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines affordable housing as a dwelling that a household can obtain for 30% or less of its income. California has tried to come up with all kinds of answers for the lack of affordable housing in the state. One of their most recent proposals is to encourage homeowners to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their properties.
What is an ADU?
Very few people outside of the architecture, construction, or public policy sectors use the term accessory dwelling unit or ADU. Most people tend to refer to these structures as “mother-in-law units,” “granny flats,” or simply “rental units.” An ADU is an independent residence located on the same lot as a detached single-family home. The word “independent” is key here. An ADU must have its own kitchen and bathroom, so it can be a self-sufficient residential unit. A garage that has been converted into an additional bedroom for your teenager or a home office, for example, wouldn’t qualify as an ADU, since it doesn’t have its own kitchen or bathroom.
To make it easier for homeowners to add ADUs to their properties, California has made multiple changes to the guidelines that govern ADUs. Now, homeowners no longer have to pay impact fees for ADUs under 750 square feet. They are also permitted to add an ADU, as well as a junior accessory dwelling unit (JADU) to the same property. (A JADU is an independent unit that is built within the existing walls of a single-family home, comprised of no more than 500 square feet.) In addition, homeowners associations (HOAs) are no longer allowed to reasonably prohibit the development of an ADU or JADU within their communities.
In the past, ADUs were mainly used by elderly family members who still wanted some sense of independence, but would benefit from being near family for support. Of course, they are still used for these purposes by many families, but homeowners are also seeing the benefits of building ADUs for rental purposes. Having a rental unit can provide a nice bit of side income, as well as increase the value of a home.
Architectural Design Considerations for ADUs
In most jurisdictions, there are no rules stating that the ADU has to look like the main house. However, most of the clients we’ve worked with on these types of projects want the styles to match, so the ADU looks like it was always a part of the property and not like an obvious add-on. As architects, when we design an ADU, we strive to pick out the details, finishes, and configurations in the existing home that are most appealing and use those to unify all of the buildings on the site.
Building an ADU may also be a good opportunity to upgrade the existing home. For example, if you’ve wanted a modern farmhouse look, why not create that for the ADU and, at the same time, redesign the façade of the main house?
For the interior of your ADU, you’ll want to consider things like handicapped accessibility and other accommodations if it is to be used by an elderly relative. Consider including ramps, low thresholds, roll-in showers, and larger-than-standard door, hall, and bathroom sizes.
If it’s to be used solely as a rental unit, think about what would appeal to a typical renter in your area—whether it’s college students, young couples, or single adults. A good ADU should include at least one full bathroom, a full kitchen, and a separate entry that leads directly onto a yard, porch, or patio that is separate from the area used by the family in the main house. An extra storage area, or if possible, a separate garage is always a plus for renters. It’s also important to consider how your renters will access the unit. You probably don’t want them walking by your bathroom window whenever they come and go, if this can be avoided.
Saving Money on the Building of an ADU in Long Beach
If you currently have an accessory building on your property, such as a garage or out building, converting it to an ADU would save you a good amount of money over starting from scratch. When building an entirely new structure, keeping it below the 750-square-foot threshold will save you from having to pay impact fees, which can get quite costly. Keeping it under 500 square feet will allow you to avoid paying additional school fees.
Some Words of Caution about Rental Units in Long Beach
The state giveth, and the state taketh away. Currently, the State of California has pretty lax guidelines when it comes to homeowners renting out their ADUs, because, as mentioned above, they want to encourage homeowners to build more affordable housing units. This may not always be the case. Our Long Beach architecture firm has heard rumblings (although we have not been able to confirm them yet) that once the State of California has successfully encouraged California homeowners to build a good number of ADUs, they will then begin to regulate them in the same way apartment buildings are regulated. Homeowners renting out their ADUs would then be required to follow all of the regulations regarding things like tenant qualifications and notifications.
In addition, the City of Long Beach (and many other cities in the area) currently does not allow homeowners to use ADUs as short-term or vacation rental units. So, if you were considering building an ADU with the hopes of making a good amount of side income renting it out on Airbnb, you’ll need to come up with a new plan.
Using a Long Beach Architect to Design Your ADU
At Grisafe Architecture, we’ve helped many Long Beach homeowners design ADUs and JADUs. We can come up with a design that meets your specific goal for the space—whether it’s providing a home for an elderly relative, bringing in some rental income, or housing out-of-town guests. We can also help you with the permitting process and oversee the construction, so the space turns out exactly how you envisioned.
Contact us today to get the conversation started! We are happy to answer your initial questions and set up a time to discuss you project in greater detail.