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Resources Considering an ADU in LA? Here are 3 creative ways to add an extra unit to your property.

Considering an ADU in LA? Here are 3 creative ways to add an extra unit to your property.

By Lauren Zumbach from Story by J.P. Morgan

Interest in accessory dwelling units — also known as ADUs, granny flats, in-law suites and garage apartments — has taken off in California since state legislators loosened restrictions on the units in recent years. 

As of March 2021, ADUs accounted for more than one in five newly permitted housing units in Los Angeles, according to a press release from Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office. 

Building an ADU isn’t cheap, but the opportunity to bring in extra rental income means “there’s tremendous demand,” says John Perfitt, owner of Los Angeles-based Building Blocks, which helps people building ADUs in the Los Angeles County area with design, permitting and construction. 

3 ideas for ADUs

Before committing to building an ADU, property owners should weigh all the benefits with the costs. One major consideration: Does your property have room for an additional unit? 

Here are three ways owners can rethink their space to make room for an ADU, even on properties without a big backyard. 

  1. Convert the garage: Johnny Caal, founder of Caal Enterprises, has added ADUs to a handful of his Los Angeles multifamily properties by repurposing space for cars. One six-unit building’s four-car garage transformed into a two-bedroom, two-bath ADU. Caal also turned a triplex’s three-car garage into a two-bedroom, one-bath unit and converted a duplex’s garage into a studio apartment.
  2. Look for extra space within existing buildings: Multifamily property owners can create new units within underused areas of their buildings, like storage space. At another of Caal’s apartment buildings, he converted a game room and pool area into an attached ADU.
  3. Fill in tuck-under parking: Los Angeles requires owners of some soft first-story buildings, where a portion of the ground floor is carved out to make room for tuck-under parking, retrofit them for earthquake protection. Some multifamily owners see it as an opportunity to create a new unit while tackling the renovations, says David Tashroudian, owner of ADU1, which designs and builds ADUs. 

What to know before you build an ADU

Here are some additional considerations before you start planning an ADU:

  • Detached vs. attached: In California, detached ADUs — typically new units built on a property or garages converted to dwellings — are more common than ADUs built as an addition to the main home, according to a 2021 survey of ADU owners conducted by the U.C. Berkeley Center for Community Innovation. Detached ADUs can feel more private, something that was especially appealing during the pandemic, says Nabil Suleiman, a Los Angeles-based real estate investor and agent at DPP Real Estate.
  • Think twice about two-story: While two-story ADUs are allowed, height limits may require low ceilings, says Gina Wieczorek, co-founder of ADU development and consulting firm Casitas says. Casitas’ clients typically opt for a high-ceilinged single-story unit or mezzanine loft. Don’t overlook utilities: If the part of the property with space for an ADU lacks easy access to utilities, or if the extra unit would require significant electrical work, an ADU may not make sense, Wieczorek says.
  • Pre-fab and pre-approved plans: If you don’t want to design an ADU from scratch, you can buy prefabricated ADUs or choose one of the city of Los Angeles’ ADU Standard Plan Program’s more than three dozen pre-approved designs meant to streamline the permitting process. Still, many property owners prefer designing a structure that matches the existing building and doesn’t feel like it was tacked on, Wieczorek says.
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