Housing group secures changes to accessory dwelling unit policies in the City of Oakland

LOS ANGELES, July 20, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Californians for Homeownership, a nonprofit organization sponsored by the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (C.A.R.) that aims to address California’s housing crisis through legal tools, today announced that it has obtained significant changes to policies in the City of Oakland that previously limited the development of accessory dwelling units (ADUs). 

The changes obtained by the non-profit will allow Oakland homeowners to develop larger units than were previously allowed, up to 1,200 square feet. And in many cases, ADUs will now be allowed on lots where the City previously prohibited their construction, such as small-lot developments. The changes also expand opportunities to develop new units alongside duplexes and larger multifamily buildings.

“Accessory dwelling units are critical for addressing California’s affordable housing crisis,” said C.A.R. President Dave Walsh. “That’s why C.A.R. has long supported state legislation easing ADU development and why Californians for Homeownership has worked hard to ensure that every California property owner can take advantage of the expanded housing creation opportunities allowed by these laws.”

ADUs, often called “in-law units” or “casitas,” are additional units built alongside single-family homes and other residential buildings, within existing residential neighborhoods. They are fully self-contained, with bathrooms and kitchens. And they are generally subject to the normal building and safety standards for dwelling units, including those related to fire safety. State laws passed in 2019 greatly expanded the ADU development rights of homeowners and property owners throughout the state.

California has a housing deficit of 2 million to 3.5 million homes, and it ranks 49th out of the 50 states in the number of housing units per capita. This need has become particularly pronounced in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the number of Californians who are forced to live in overcrowded housing units due to the state’s inadequate housing supply. To address the housing crisis, California needs to build homes quicker and at a lower cost than traditional ground-up construction allows. Compared with other forms of new development, ADUs are cost-effective and minimize impacts to surrounding communities.

Cities and counties throughout California are developing local ADU ordinances to guide development consistent with local needs. Until a city or county develops its own local policy, default state law rules apply. Californians for Homeownership has been investigating and monitoring local compliance with the new ADU laws statewide. Since the laws were passed in late 2019, the nonprofit has reviewed proposed ADU policies in over 200 cities and has obtained widespread changes to proposed policies through pre-litigation correspondence.

The City of Oakland is currently in the process of developing its own local ADU ordinance. During hearings as part of that process, Californians for Homeownership learned that City staff were applying many limits on ADU development that were more restrictive than the state law default standards. For example, City staff had set a 1,000 square foot limit for new detached ADUs, but state law allows ADUs up 1,200 square feet—a difference of about one bedroom. In some cases, staff limited ADUs to 800 or 400 square feet, and in other cases chose to prohibit them entirely.

“Some of these limits are authorized by state law, but only with the approval of a city’s elected officials after a full public hearing process,” said Matthew Gelfand, the in-house litigator for the nonprofit. Oakland’s planning staff agreed to discontinue applying the unauthorized standards after the nonprofit threatened litigation.

“Litigation is always a last resort for our organization,” said Gelfand. “But it is critical that cities understand that we can and will sue them if they violate state housing law.” To date, the organization has filed two lawsuits to enforce the state’s ADU laws. It recently settled one of these lawsuits, against the City of Whittier, which changed its ADU policies and reimbursed the organization for costs and attorneys’ fees.

While it is in the process of developing an ADU ordinance, Oakland will now be using state law default standards to assess ADUs. The City has updated its ADU application materials to reflect these standards, which allow detached ADUs up to 1,200 square feet in most situations. Californians for Homeownership will be monitoring the development of the City’s ADU ordinance alongside other groups that are working to advance high-quality ADU policies in Oakland, including the Bridge Association of REALTORS® and the California Renters Legal Advocacy & Education Fund (CaRLA).

Californians for Homeownership is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization sponsored by the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® devoted to using legal tools to address California’s housing crisis. For too long, California’s cities have treated compliance with state and federal housing law as optional. The organization seeks to change that attitude by proactively enforcing the law, on behalf of the important public interest in having additional housing available to families at all income levels. Californians for Homeownership was established by the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (C.A.R.), and it receives financial support from C.A.R. and private donors. To make a tax-deductible charitable contribution today, visit caforhomes.org.

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