"GRANNY FLAT" Is There One in Your Future? - Richard H. Dodd
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“GRANNY FLAT” Is There One in Your Future?

28 Jan “GRANNY FLAT” Is There One in Your Future?


The “Granny Flat” is a unique type of living unit.  No longer designed only to house an elderly relative it can provide many benefits including affordable housing. Also known as an “accessory dwelling unit” or ADU, it can meet a wide variety of housing needs in todays’ modern and often chaotic world. It can be an answer to the nation’s need for flexible and affordable housing. Additionally, it can generate much needed extra income as a rental property and later provide a nest egg that sustains retirement. It can serve as a home office during a pandemic and be easily converted to an art studio in the following years. For adult children who may choose to live with their parents, it can provide an apartment like life style. Then, in later years, it can provide more accessible housing for aging parents who may want to have loved ones nearby. This approach recently proved to be a good solution for an older couple living in a two-story family home originally built in Costa Mesa, California on a large lot, zoned for a single-family residence. The occupants had developed their exiting home and landscaping for their way of life and were comfortable with the neighborhood. They wanted to remain in their existing home for as long as possible while also planning for their future needs.

A creative architect will consider all the features of a normal residence. Any special owner requirements should be incorporated with attention given to low maintenance materials an accessibility. Consider larger door opening lever handles, grab bars, accessible showers, etc. Also, consideration should be given to various design features that save space, such as wall hung toilets that place the tank in the wall. Natural light can be achieved by windows, clerestories, skylights or dormers incorporated with artificial lighting that supports both overall ambient as well as reading and task lighting even in smaller units. Design should meet or exceed the California Green Code for low energy usage with low energy LED lighting and well-insulated structures.

While local governments retain some flexibility when adopting an accessory dwelling unit regulation, adopted ordinances cannot be arbitrary, burdensome or unreasonably restrict the property owner’s ability to create a second unit. In fact, even HOA’s are required to give consideration to ADU’s. Designated zoning determines where the units are allowed and may include special requirements for parking, height, setbacks, lot coverage and unit living area. California courts have found a “zoning ordinance which require that the occupancy of a second-unit to be limited to persons related to the main unit’s owner” to be unconstitutional.

To date the impacts of legislation has not been fully realized but the numerous benefits and positive opportunities will hopefully be more fully utilized in the future as an affordable and viable housing option. And, planning for the changing needs of a later date is not only wise but prudent. The accessory dwelling unit (ADU) is noticeably underutilized. While the California dream with its environment, temperate climate and varying localities has always been a magnet, housing costs continue to rise with no apparent end in sight. Fortunately, accessory building units can offer and affordable solution for many property owners as their family needs change.

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