Housing Bill Could Make Life Easier With a Granny Flat

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Two statewide housing bills intended to address high costs of living in California could affect Malibu by making it easier to build secondary units, or “granny flats.”

Senate Bill 1069 and Assembly Bill 2299 are intended to loosen requirements for constructing “accessory dwelling units,” also known as “granny flats.” The term “granny flat” comes from the common practice of adults building back units on their property for their elderly parents. These units intended for older generations may become the new home for young adults across California.

“AB 2299 [targets] barriers that have discouraged the creation of affordable housing,” Assemblymember Richard Bloom said in a release after the bill passed the state assembly in August.

All residential zoning districts in Malibu allow second units, as long as they meet zoning ordinances. 

“Second units are allowed as accessory development in all residential zoning districts,” Senior Planner Richard Mollica explained in an email. “They are allowed to be either detached or attached to the main entrance.”

The application process for second units in Malibu has been criticized.

“The process for getting a guest house approved is going to take you at least 18 months and cost you a lot of money,” Real Estate Broker for Coldwell Banker Paul Grisanti said. “The cost of getting that permit with the geology and the soils and the rest of those things is very similar to the cost of getting a permit [for] an entire house.”

Homeowners across the state have been restricted by a laundry list of requirements before a second unit can be approved. For example, zoning codes have required property owners to create additional parking spaces for each new bedroom constructed.

According to Grisanti, many second units in Malibu were constructed without permits or before cityhood, but the city has said second units continue to be approved. 

“Second units are very common approvals,” Mollica wrote. “I’m not aware of any deterrents to building them.”

The proposed bills would create exceptions to the parking requirements, such as when the property is within close proximity to public transportation or a parking-permitted neighborhood. 

Malibu may not resemble the densely packed inner city the bill’s authors were envisioning, but the legislators’ eagerness to address the issue could lead to unintended consequences in the local market.

Both bills push cities to pass their own accessory dwelling unit ordinances. If cities do not have their own ordinances that establish how they will approve or deny unit build requests, they must defer to the bill’s criteria for approving units. 

Each bill’s criteria make it very easy for new second units to be approved. Cities can avoid relying on the bills’ criteria if they pass their own ordinance.

Malibu residents with large lots and desirable land could take advantage of these relaxed restrictions. 

A study done by The Center for Community Innovation at UC Berkeley released a report in 2012  on second unit use in Northern California. The study concluded that the majority of second units were used by strangers who paid rent to a homeowner who lived on site. 

This renting setup could provide relief for Malibu residents who have become familiar with the term “house rich, money poor.” 

“Asset- and income-building strategies may aid homeowners with negative equity or on fixed income,” the report said. 

It’s clear that Malibu residents are willing and able to turn their homes into income generators. Malibu collected $1 million from its transient occupancy tax last year. The tax is collected specifically from renting services like Airbnb and other short-term rental outlets. The city anticipates the total collected will stay at $1 million for 2016.

Both Senate Bill 1069 and Assembly Bill 2299 have been presented to Governor Jerry Brown after approval from state legislature. Brown has spoken favorably of both bills in the past, but given their overlapping purpose, it’s possible he will only sign one.