Can I build a Granny Flat on my property?

We here at cs design get this question quite a bit, and when asked by a recent prospective client this same question, I figured it's time we wrote a blog post that covers this topic.

NOTE: THIS IS PER CITY OF LOS ANGELES, ALTHOUGH SURROUNDING CITIES ARE SIMILAR. CHECK WITH YOUR LOCAL BUILDING DEPT FOR MORE PRECISE INFO WHERE YOU LIVE.

So, can I?

The short answer is, yes you can; you can build your granny flat. However, the devil is in the details.

First, some ground rules:

  • Setbacks - Most structures in the City of LA cannot lie within the front, side, and rear setbacks. This is to allow for minimum fire separation distances primarily, but also enhances privacy, practicality, etc. 
  • Accessory or Utility structures can be in setbacks. These are structures like sheds, and, you guessed it garages. These are more precisely non-habitable spaces; "stuff" lives in these spaces, not people. 
  • AB 1866 - This is the state law which passed on July 1, 2003 which basically allows for Granny Flats. 
  • Duplex - Just to clarify, just because you build a granny flat does not mean you have a Duplex. Without getting into the technical and legal definition, just accept this fact: you will not be building a duplex.

Second, the 9 criteria a Granny Flat must satisfy:

  1. The second unit is not intended for sale BUT may be rented
  2. The lot is zoned for single family of multi-family use
  3. The lot contains an existing single family dwelling
  4. The second unit is either located within the existing house, or detached from the main house. (City of LA requires minimum 10 ft separation)
  5. When attached, the area of additional second unit cannot exceed 30% of existing house.
  6. When detached, the area of additional second unit cannot exceed 1,200 SF.
  7. All other zoning code requirements apply (setbacks, height, lot coverage, architectural review, etc.)
  8. All other building code requirements apply
  9. Parking for one additional car is required. Can be covered or uncovered. Can be tandem. Can be in required yard (City of LA doesn't allow front yard parking)

Let's look at a typical example:

This is a very typical single family home arrangement in LA. The garage is in the back and is often located within the setbacks. This is fine for a garage. Not fine for habitable space.

Here you can see two potential options. In the first, the existing garage is demolished making way for a detached granny flat. This detached unit cannot exceed 1,200 SF. The cars are relocated to tandem carport arrangement.

In the second scenario, the garage is maintained and an addition is added to the house. This will can't exceed 30% of the existing house. A 3rd car is added with a carport in the driveway.

 

What if I can't meet these 9 criteria?

You have 2 options:

  1. Apply for Zoning Variance, density increases, and several other items. This will take lots of time and cost some serious dollars in the City of LA
  2. Apply for a Conditional Use Permit to allow the Granny Flat. Just as long and just as expensive as the Variance.

Remember, with these 2 options, after the time and money spent, there is no guarantee you'll be approved.

UPDATE: The City of Los Angeles is currently being sued by some residents of West LA and all permits for Granny Flats are currently on hold. Read here for more info. My understanding is that all applications are on hold pending legal decision.

 

UPDATE: While some residents of LA fight this idea, other cities are latching on to it. Click here for more.