It’s a good time to consider adding a ‘granny flat’

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REGION — California rules have recently become more favorable to homeowners adding a granny flat to their property. Cities are also adding incentives to build an accessory dwelling unit and increase the local affordable housing stock.

A granny flat, or accessory dwelling unit, is a self-contained, 1,200-square-foot or smaller residence, with a separate entrance, partial kitchen that includes a sink, refrigerator and cooking appliances and a bathroom.

The name granny flat reflects that the unit can serve as a residence for an elder family member. The unit can also be rented out. Craigslist listed the rental cost of a granny flat under 530 square feet in Encinitas to run between $1,700 and $1,900 a month.

New state regulations on granny flats went into effect Jan. 1.

State laws limit one accessory dwelling unit per property, that is a maximum of 1,200 square feet, and follows all property setbacks.

State regulations also require one parking space for a newly constructed unit unless it is a half mile from public transit.

Encinitas is in the process of finalizing its regulations that will allow granny flats up to the maximum state allowed 1,200 square feet. The city previously limited granny flats to 750 square feet.

“We’re relaxing the regulations more so than other municipalities in North County with the square footage allowed,” Geoff Plagemann, Encinitas associate planner, said. “Most cities are well below (1,200 square feet).”

Encinitas has waived development services, plan check, building, fire and engineering fees on accessory dwelling units since February. Plagemann said this saves homeowners an average of $3,300 in fees.

The citywide benefit is more affordable housing units.

“The city is looking to create more housing in whatever means possible, this is a really easy way that is conducive to existing neighborhoods,” Plagemann said.

Other city requirements are for the owner to live on site, and granny flats to be rented for a minimum of 30 days to ensure they do not become vacation rentals.

Encinitas City Council will adopt regulations March 14. Then city staff will seek Coastal Commission approval to change city laws.

Oceanside updated its accessory dwelling unit regulations last year.

It, too, allows units up to 1,200 square feet. The city also stipulates that units must be a minimum of 350 square feet.

Like its neighbor to the south, Oceanside requires homeowners to live on site, and granny flats to be rented for a minimum of 30 days as a primary residence.

Oceanside does not charge homeowner impact fees, because granny flats are not new construction.

City regulations also ensure there is one off-street parking space per each bedroom unit, and require parking to be replaced elsewhere on the property if a garage is converted to a unit. As stated in statewide rules, a parking exemption applies if the unit is within a half mile of public transit.

Homeowners who are considering adding a granny flat need the space, money, designer and an understanding of city regulations to move forward with the build.

Plagemann recommends that residents stop in and talk to city Planning Department staff about their project early on.

“Stop in the front counter and ask some questions,” Plagemann said.

He said it is also important for homeowners to keep abreast of where the city is in updating its regulations. He said for most Encinitas homeowners it is beneficial to wait until new accessory dwelling unit laws are in effect.

Regulations are slightly different for efficiency units, also called junior accessory units, that share a wall with the main home.

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