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Backyard landlord: What to know before building an ADU or granny flat


To find the hottest design trend in Los Angeles right now, look no further than your own backyard. In 2017, when California relaxed the rules for obtaining building permits for accessory dwelling units — otherwise known as ADUs or “granny flats” — on single-family residential properties, it ignited a building industry gold rush of sorts and ushered in the dawn of the microdeveloper. Now, legally permitted ADUs are becoming more commonplace as property owners build from scratch or transform carriage houses, backyard cottages and garage apartments into units that proponents say can ease Southern California’s housing crisis. Kol Peterson, author of “Backdoor Revolution: The Definitive Guide to ADU Development,” said interest generated by the policy changes sent ADU development in Los Angeles skyrocketing. Admittedly, many of those permits are for legalization of existing and unpermitted ADUs, not new construction. “Still,” said Peterson, “it’s unlike anything else we’ve seen in the country.”

The idea: Allow homeowners in neighborhoods zoned for single-family residences to build long-term rentals or multigenerational housing to creatively address the housing shortage. Restrictions vary by city but in Los Angeles, structures up to 1,200 square feet are allowed.

Seeing dollar signs where the swing set now stands? In spite of his enthusiasm for ADUs, Peterson advises us to double-check our daydreams. “ADUs are very challenging and time-consuming to build, and they are extremely expensive.”

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