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Changing ADU Laws in Santa Cruz

In response to our state’s housing shortage, Governor Brown has signed Senate Bill (SB) 1069, which will make it easier, and for some, less expensive to develop Additional Dwelling Unit’s (ADU’s). SB 1069 will require local governing bodies to loosen ADU regulation. Both Santa Cruz County and City have amended their ADU related ordinances. We report on major ordinance changes that the city has publicized. We also summarize County ordinance changes, which are still contingent on Coastal Commission approval.


Changes to the City’s ADU ordinance address new ADU construction and the conversion of a legal nonconforming structure to an ADU.
  • The floor area of an ADU cannot exceed 10% of the lot area up to a maximum of 1,200 square feet. The floor area for ADU’s attached to your home shall not exceed 50% of the existing habitable floor area of your house or the maximum ADU floor area allowed for the lot, whichever is smaller.
  • The rules for setback requirements of newly built ADU’s have not changed. However, existing ADU’s built prior to 2017 with a valid building permit or that can be identified as a legal nonconforming structure with setbacks less than what is required for a new ADU may be converted into an ADU.
    • A second story ADU over an existing garage may have side and rear yard setbacks of five feet. Otherwise any two story ADU is required to have at least a side yard setback of five feet and a rear yard setback of 10 feet.
  • The maximum rear yard coverage of newly build ADU’s is still 30%. However, if you have an ADU built prior to 2017 with a valid permit, or that can be identified as a legal nonconforming structure with rear yard coverage that is greater than 30%, it is possible that your structure can be converted into an ADU.
  • The same parking requirements for ADU’s apply except in the following instances:
    • The ADU is within ½ mile of a metro station.
    • The ADU is within a historic district.
    • The ADU is entirely within the existing single family home or existing accessory structure.
    • The ADU is located within one block of a car share vehicle.
  • AUP (Administrative Use Permits) are no longer required for two story ADU’s. All ADU’s will be permitted ministerially.
  • The property owner needs to offer the tenant of the ADU a residential parking permit upon request.
  • No fire sprinklers are required for an ADU if the existing SFR (single family residence) does not require them.
    • This is controversial because it does not comply with State Fire Codes. Therefore, it may be subject to change. Read more about this issue here .
  • No water or sewer connection fees are required if the ADU is built entirely within the existing SFR or accessory structure. Water and sewer connection fees will be required if the ADU is added as an addition to the SFR or accessory structure.


In addition, if you have an unpermitted second unit that can meet all of the necessary requirements of the ADU ordinance except the owner occupied requirement, you may have an opportunity to legalize your second unit. The city has been working to make this process easier for property owners, which you can read more about  here .  Note that this is not a complete list of changes, and if you have questions about building or legalizing an ADU in the City of Santa Cruz, you should call the City Planning Department at 831-420-5100.


On February 9, 2017.  Jondi Gumz at the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported on a board meeting in which the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors amended ADU rules. Some of the proposed changes include:
  • Owners may occupy the main residence, the ADU, or both. The previous law required owner occupancy of only one of the dwellings.
  • ADU height allowances have increased. Detached units may be up to 17 feet instead of 13 feet, and those built over a garage can be up to 22 feet instead of 19 feet.
  • There will be a one-acre minimum for the largest ADU of up to 1,200 square feet, instead of 2.5 acres minimum.
  • No sprinklers will be required when there are no sprinklers in the main house.
  • Permit decisions are to be made over-the-counter within 120 days.
Supervisor John Leopold, who chairs the Board, asked for pre-approved ADU designs to cut expenses for property owners. On February 28th, the County Board will vote on the final ordinance changes, and upon approval, the changes will go to the CA Coastal Commission. This means that if everything goes as planned, these changes will go into effect sometime in March. If you have plans to build an ADU outside of the City, know that the County planning department will tell you to come back in March (when the ordinance changes are finalized).


If you’ve been considering building an ADU, we suggest you call your respective planning department to find out if your property is eligible for ADU construction or legalization. These units can translate into rental income or a comfortable living space for your older children, parents, or relatives. New ADU’s also provide additional, greatly needed, affordable housing in our community.

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