ADU on Duplex R2 lot question

57 Replies

We are in escrow on a duplex zoned R2 that has a detached garage that was converted into an additional unit without permits. The housing department states that it needs a new certificate of occupancy because it's no longer a garage. How can we go about making this a legal unit? The lot is big enough for 3 units because its 7700 square feet - but its zoned r2. Anyone know how hard it is to attain zoning variance? We don't want to have to tear out what has been built in the garage. (They did nice work! And we wanted to live in it while we fix up the duplex...) 

City of Los Angeles. In Eagle Rock, down the street from Occidental College main entrance.

Thanks for asking!

We have since heard that it is not possible to have an ADU but we may apply to switch the certificate of occupancy from a garage (U) to a Rec Room (R). That way we can keep the bathroom and not demo the walls, unpermitted building interior work. Hopefully. Crossing fingers. Any other ideas or suggestions?

@Tess Sweet , you should be able to ask the city for a permit and inspection of the converted garaged to get a certificate of occupancy for the second unit, granted that you can show that you are able to provide parking on site for both units. Getting a variance can be a pretty long process (6-12 months). While the ADU ordinance allows for a bonus unit for SFR lots, you should not have a problem with having a second units based on your zoning and lot size, just wouldn't be called an ADU. One of the restrictions of an ADU is that the property owner has to live in the one of the units, but can rent out the other; for R2 zoning this is not the case, and you would be able to rent out both.

@Xander Tertychny , thank you! Just to clarify, this issue is with a third unit. The duplex has a certificate of occupancy. However, escrow is being held up because a housing inspector came out a month ago and gave a citation to the current owner for the unpermitted work on the garage. We are being told by housing that the work has to be ripped out and converted back into a garage. But a building inspector said we could switch occupancy to "R" - but then nobody can live in it. After researching a little, I saw that we might be able to have a legal third unit, as you mentioned, but it seems the only way is to get a variance from R2 to R3? Unless you know of another way? We plan to live in one of the units for a year while we work to fix up the property.

Also curious - is the best way to get a variance approved by working with a real estate lawyer to help build "our case"? It's by a college, they need housing in the area, etc... 

Originally posted by @Xander Tertychny :

@Tess Sweet , you should be able to ask the city for a permit and inspection of the converted garaged to get a certificate of occupancy for the second unit, granted that you can show that you are able to provide parking on site for both units. Getting a variance can be a pretty long process (6-12 months). While the ADU ordinance allows for a bonus unit for SFR lots, you should not have a problem with having a second units based on your zoning and lot size, just wouldn't be called an ADU. One of the restrictions of an ADU is that the property owner has to live in the one of the units, but can rent out the other; for R2 zoning this is not the case, and you would be able to rent out both.

A duplex on an R2 lot requires four parking stalls, two of which have to be covered. An ADU and SFR on an R2 lot requires two stalls, which can be tandem and need not be covered.

Can you please point me to the municipal ordinance that requires owner occupancy in the City of Los Angeles?

@Tess Sweet , if the building inspector will give you "R" occupancy to clear violation, I wonder if you can than re-apply to have this switched to ADU occupancy afterward, in order to avoid the long process of getting a variance.

@Seth Borman My understanding is that an ADU has a requirement for an additional parking space to the SFR, but it is waived if within 1/2 mile of public transit (such as bus stop), which applies to most of LA.

As for owner-occupancy, the city ordinance does not address this aspect the land use, and it used to be that the LA county required a covenant for the second units to be rented only is owner was to occupy one of the units. It looks like the latest revision of the ADU ordinance strikes this clause, and releases any previous covenants per 22.140.640 (J). My mistake.

http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/135022.pdf

The issue is state wide ADU rules to not apply to duplexes (it applies to SFR) and I do not believe LA allows the ADU be added to duplexes.

I think you would have a hard time getting R2 to get rezoned R3.

If you can get the rec room designation I suspect you can leave a kitchenette and restroom.  I think you need to look for a means to not tear out the unit and still close escrow.  After closing of escrow, your immediate problem is over. 

There is a housing shortage and I suspect it will continuously get easier to add units. If you close and move into the rec room, I suspect in a couple of years it will be easier to get that as a separate unit than it is today. For evidence I point to the statewide ADU rules, the changes to parking regulations (near transit centers, etc: as though that means people will not have cars).

Good luck

Thanks @Dan Heuschele , @Xander Tertychny , and @Seth Borman   for replying to my thread. So helpful! Now we are in the situation of trying to save our illegally converted garage by building some covered parking/an attached carport on the property. But the issue is, we have an easement with the house next door and the area is somewhat tight. If we tear off the back deck (which is ugly and not used anyway) we have the space. But we need to be sure. Anyone know the best way to find out how and where to build a carport legally? Allowing for turning radius, handling a shared driveway, etc. Who is the right person to bring out to our property to confirm? We are also looking for a designer to help make a more stylized carport. We want it to be more like a large shaded area people can use for outdoor living space. There is tons of on-street parking and I know the tenants would enjoy outdoor space more than a parking spot. I think I will post a separate thread for this. It might be a different issue than my original question :)

Update: Just went down to zoning and found out we can't get an "R" certificate  for the garage. It has to stay a garage because there is not enough space to build a carport that would satisfy the required 2-car covered parking. Really disappointing news, to say the least. I did find however out that we can make the garage 2-story, so that's something we can consider.

News flash: With the new ADU ordinance, it seems like buying an SFR and building an ADU is a better investment than duplexes in LA these days. There are a lot more limitations and red tape for duplexes. They need permits for every little thing while SFR's with ADUs seem to be the golden ticket. Note to self. SFR.

@TessSweet, Thank you for all your persistent posts here. I'm hoping you can shed a little light on the ADU / duplex situation here in LA. I cannot find a straight answer on adding an ADU to a duplex zoned R2.

We are considering building up on the existing detached garage for the ADU. We occupy the front unit, and are renting out the second. We can meet all the parking requirements and have enough room for setback from property lines, etc., just don't know about the duplex/R2 designation and how it applies to ADU's. Any insight you could share about this would be greatly appreciated.

@ DanHesuchele Can you point me to information on duplexes not being allowed? The CA Housing & Dev site, as well as LA Planning site mentions SFRs and Multifamily Unit zones being allowed, but no mention of "duplexes" specifically.

I guess the big question is, is a duplex with shared walls & roof considered an SFR?

@Glenn Driver - Hi! Thanks for participating in my thread. Sadly, at this time, LA city only allows ADU's for SFR properties. I am crossing my fingers hoping that will change down the line! We were advised, if we want to add an ADU, to consider changing the usage of our zoning from R2 to R1 and changing our property to an SFR by cutting a door between the two units. Before we move forward with any big changes, we plan to discuss with a real estate lawyer. It seems there is a lot of red tape but there are ways perhaps to get creative with your use? Let me know what you discover please. And I will keep you posted as well!

For clarification, state law allows ADUs for single family properties. It doesn't allow them for duplexes.

The underlying zoning doesn't matter. There are duplexes in R1 zones and single family in R2, legally, and ADUs can be located in any residential zone.

It does seem to matter for the appraisal, which is a completely separate issue.

I have been a City Planner in the public and private sectors since 1994. Most City's Zoning Ordinances (Usually Title 17 of the Muni Code) will specify minimum unit sizes for R-2 lots. Check with the Planning Dept. on the lot area per unit (density)and minimum unit size. Ask them for the maximum density (number of units) you can build on your lot given the lot size. Forget about a variance. You have the right to apply, but there are 3 "findings" required under CA State law to justify a variance. If your project doesn't meet just one of the 3 findings, then the Zoning Administrator must deny the application. A variance has to do with the land itself, something physically inherent with the property that you have no control over, like lot size, shape or topography. Rezoning the property from R2 to R1 is called "downzoning". While downzoning a property does lead to lesser impacts on a neighborhood (less cars, traffic, noise, etc.) given the lack of affordable housing in LA, I would speculate that the Planning Dept. would recommend denial because your proposal would actually result in the removal of affordable housing, and that would violate the goals and policies of their adopted Housing Element. In addition, CA State law requires that all applications must be reviewed by the highest authority, meaning that the even though a variance is typically reviewed by either a Zoning Administrator, he/she can bump it up to the Planning Commission. However, a rezoning application must first be reviewed by the Planning Commission, and then on to the City Council, who has the final authority.

Clear as mud, no? I've made a career out of helping people do this. Let me know if I can help you more.

You could maybe subdivide the lot? You miss the footage by about 300 square feet ( you need 8,000 with the 20% bonus ) but have a good chance of getting it approved.

This would give you two lots and each could have a ADU. Something to research!


@Matt Everling

Hello, I'm thinking about buying a duplex in LA City. It's zoned R2 on a fairly big (for LA) size lot. It has a 2 car garage and a long driveway for tandem parking. There seems to be more than enough room to build an ADU in the back. The ADU Ordinance states an ADU is permitted in zones R2, etc.. with an SFR. Are the units considered an SFR? Can I build an ADU in addition to the duplex? Also, have you heard about clearance of horizontal 10' from power lines?

Thank you!

Dionne

Originally posted by @Dionne A. :


@Matt Everling

Hello, I'm thinking about buying a duplex in LA City. It's zoned R2 on a fairly big (for LA) size lot. It has a 2 car garage and a long driveway for tandem parking. There seems to be more than enough room to build an ADU in the back. The ADU Ordinance states an ADU is permitted in zones R2, etc.. with an SFR. Are the units considered an SFR? Can I build an ADU in addition to the duplex? Also, have you heard about clearance of horizontal 10' from power lines?

Thank you!

Dionne

HI Dionne, Let's break down your question into two parts: 1) SFR with ADU and 2) Adding a unit to a property with a duplex.

1) Since the property is zoned R2, it is usually considered two-family zoning. If there was a SFR on the site, then another unit would be called an ADU. An ADU is considered an accessory structure. The SFR is the primary structure.

2) Since there is a duplex on the site, an ADU should not be called an ADU, it usually is considered another dwelling unit on the property. This means that the unit would not be subect to the ADU requirements, but would have to meet the minimum unit size per the Zoning Ordinance for a 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom, etc. However, to even add another unit to a multi-family property in an R2 zone, you need to also research the maximum density permitted. For this you want to find the General Plan Land Use Map. On the legend for the R2 designation, it should tell you the max density permitted. For example, a High Density land use designation might allow something like 23 du/ac. This means that 23 dwelling units to the acre are permitted. So if your property was 2 acres, you could potentially build 46 units. If you had 0.5 acre, you could only potentially build 11.5, or 11 units (cities usually round down for density). In addition, a typical minimum lot area per dwelling unit in the R2 zone is 2,500 SF. This means that if you had a 10,000 SF lot, you could potentially build 4 units.

And yes, a 10-foot setback from an existing overhead power line is typical. This is due to what is usually an overhead easement. The utility company that owns the power line should also own an easement on your property that permits them to make repairs to the power pole/line. The setback requirement to a structure is also due to public safety and fire code requirements.

 

Does anyone know if any of the new ADU laws going in effect next week will ease the burden for duplex owners in the City of Los Angeles? I have a vacant garage waiting to be converted whenever that day comes.

@Carlos Alonso Hey Carlos, if you are zoned duplex and not single family. You still cannot have ADU. It only applies to single family. However, depends on your layout and your second unit. You MAY be able to down-zoning to single family (R1) and have ADU and junior ADU at the same time. However, this may be a lengthy process if thats the route you wish to take, and its not 100%. Hope that answer your question

Originally posted by @Carlos Alonso :

Does anyone know if any of the new ADU laws going in effect next week will ease the burden for duplex owners in the City of Los Angeles? I have a vacant garage waiting to be converted whenever that day comes.

The new laws will allow ADUs to be built on multi-family lots. There is a lot of confusion over exactly what is or isn't going to be allowed. The state's Housing and Community Development agency was supposed to come out with clarifying regulations earlier this month, but this hasn't happened yet as far as I know.

 

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