In Praise of the Granny Flat


What You Need to Know about San Diego’s New Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance
Last fall, California passed new legislation to make it easier for San Diego homeowners to build accessory dwelling units on their property. In large part, this is a response to the housing crisis and is a way to give San Diego homeowners more control over what they do with their property. This legislation took effect this January.

First, an accessory dwelling unit is a small dwelling on the property of a pre-existing residence. This can include a converted garage, or a small apartment over the garage, or a basement apartment. Sometimes, these are small structures built onto a foundation behind the main house. Once known as “mother-in-law’s quarters,” you might know an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) as a “granny flat.” In San Diego luxury homes, you’ve probably heard them called “casitas.”

Now, it’s a homeowner’s right to build an ADU on their property, without the enormous fees that used to be required to get the permits, as long as the ADU meets certain building code guidelines.

In the new legislation, if a garage is being converted into an ADU, the only requirement is that the new dwelling pass fire safety standards and show proof of sewer/septic service and water. All provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation must be included on the same parcel.

One inhibition is that an ADU cannot be added to a lot that already has an existing guest living quarter or accessory apartment.

Because of the increase in property values and home costs, not to mention the increased cost of living, Millennials have had a harder time buying homes in California, especially if they’re working on building their career. Families may want to help out, but some may find it difficult to have adult children living at home (or, for that matter, to be an adult child stuck living at home). In many ways, the ADU is the perfect compromise, giving everyone a little autonomy and independence.

The same is true for elderly relatives who many not feel comfortable (or be able to afford) living on their own, but who are not yet ready to move into an assisted living facility. Having an ADU is the perfect balance of keeping an aging relative close without having to be on top of each other all the time.

An ADU is also beneficial for those who have out-of-state family or regular houseguests but want to retain a modicum of privacy. An added benefit to this is that the ADU can serve as an office or workout room when not being used by guests.

For many homeowners, though, ADUs are the perfect compromise of having an income property with a much lower commitment requirement than owning a separate property.

Next month, I’ll discuss how the right accessory dwelling unit can be the perfect addition to your backyard retreat.

If you want more information on building an ADU or remodeling an existing structure on your property according to the new legislation, or if you have questions about any part of the luxury home design and building process, visit us at

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