San Diego Makes Room for Accessory Dwelling Units



(Contributing information from the Ruland Design Group)

In an effort to add much needed affordable housing to the stock, the City of San Diego (and other cities within the County) recently made changes in zoning codes and slimmed down fees making it easier and less expensive to add an additional dwelling onto your property. This has added to the growing public interest in the topic so I would like to provide some basic insight here into the benefits and process.

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) are additional dwellings on a residential, single family property. Essentially they are a secondary living space that can be added to almost any residential property. The two structures are located on the same property and cannot be sold separately. There are many terms used for these additional units including a granny flat, casita, guest house, in-law suite, carriage house, garden cottage, studio apartment, tiny house, and more. These dwellings include apartments over the garage, attached to the house, or free-standing units.

The new zoning code allows these units to have a full kitchen. Since their size is only limited by the size of the primary residence, the ADU can be larger than a traditional granny flat. And with the full kitchen, you can legally rent out the second unit.

What are the benefits?

There are many benefits to adding a second unit to your property. These can include:

  • An increase in the value of your property
  • Increased income from rent
  • A  safe and affordable housing option for elderly or disabled family members or care givers

What does it take to add an ADU?

There are two phases to build an ADU, the design phase and the construction phase. In the design phase, it is critical to understand your vision, funding, and scope of your project. The planning phase kicks off the process and lasts until the permits are obtained and you are ready to break ground.

In the design phase you will want to consider:

  • Location- do you want to build a studio over your garage, or a free-standing unit in the backyard?
  • Feasibility- structure analysis, identifying the municipal codes, zoning codes and obtaining the required permits.
  • Budget- this will help identify the scope, size, and details of the project. If you don’t have the cash you will need assistance with financing options.
  • Schematics- based on your goals, design preferences, property, budget and any additional considerations that need to be taken into account.
  • Vendors- architects, general contractors, electricians, plumbers , designers and more.

What are the requirements and permits needed?

There are different requirements and permits needed based on where you live in San Diego. Here are the ADU requirements for the City of San Diego as well as the County.

Download City Requirements

Download County Requirements


If you are interested in finding out more about ADUs on an existing property or new property, please send me an email or call 619-888-2117 for referrals and assistance.