New State Law on ADUs

California recently passed a new law that requires local governments to allow Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs, also known as "granny cottages" or "mother-in-law apartments") in single-family residential neighborhoods without any design review or opportunity for public comment. The law, which went into effect on January 1, is designed to ease the affordable housing shortage but will likely have significant impacts on our neighborhoods.

The new State law has many other requirements. For example, manufactured housing and trailers cannot be prohibited from serving as ADUs; second story additions must be allowed on existing one-story garages, even those without any setback, and on one-story houses; and no additional parking can be required for an ADU if it is within one-half mile of public transportation.

All existing local ADU ordinances that do not comply with the new law were null and void as of the end of last year. This includes Glendale’s, which did not allow ADUs at all.

Cities do have latitude to create development standards to guide the process of approving ADUs, although they can’t be so onerous as to make them impossible or difficult to create throughout the city. But they can help to mitigate the most extreme impacts on neighborhood cohesion and character.

Glendale’s Proposed Ordinance

City staff drafted an interim ordinance to allow Glendale to immediately regulate ADUs in a manner compliant with the new state provisions. The draft ordinance is an attempt to mitigate the worst potential impacts of ADUs in our neighborhoods while buying the City time to create a final ordinance that would go to the Planning Commission and then back to Council.

The proposed interim ordinance includes the following provisions:

  • 500 square foot maximum for an ADU;

  • Newly built ADUs must be out of the public view for historic district contributors and Glendale Register properties;

  • No ADUs can be built between the primary residential dwelling and the street-front (keeping them out of front yards is very important to help preserve the historic look and character of neighborhoods);

  • Staff will review plans for architectural compatibility;

  • Newly built ADUs are limited to 15’ in height or the height of the primary residence, whichever is lower (but can be a maximum of 25’ (or 28’ if the roof is at a certain pitch for second-floor additions to one-story garages);

  • No short-term rentals in either second units or primary residence; and

  • Applicant must certify that he or she is an owner-occupant of the property.

As a side note, Planning staff indicate they have already received a number of requests for permits to expand garages, and the applicants have been clear that these requests are the first step to creating a second unit. We can expect the Planning Department to be inundated with applications for ADUs straightaway.

City Council Consideration of the Proposed Ordinance

The proposed ordinance was introduced and discussed at this week’s City Council meeting. Unfortunately, it was clear that there are not the four votes that are needed to put it into effect immediately.

Councilmembers Gharpetian and Sinanyan had objections to the proposed ordinance. They wants units to be 800 or 850 square feet maximum as a starting point. (800 square feet is the minimum size for a two-bedroom unit in Glendale.) They also want Council to reconsider the floor-area ratio to allow people to build larger units than would otherwise be allowed under current requirements. Councilmember Sinanyan also objected to the owner-occupancy provision. He thinks that investors and house flippers should be allowed to build ADUs.

The Ordinance will be discussed again at Council next week. In light of this opposition, it appears that the ordinance drafted by staff has no hope of being passed as is unless Councilmembers Gharpetian and Sinanyan change their minds. Because Glendale has not passed an ADU ordinance that complies with the State law, the far more permissive State law is in effect, and thus Glendale currently lacks the most basic protections proposed by City staff.

TGHS supports passage of the interim ordinance as written in order to protect Glendale's historic neighborhoods while a final ordinance is drafted and approved.


New State law:

State guidance for Community Development departments on implementing the law:

Proposed Glendale interim ordinance on ADUs: