New ADU Laws Bring Opportunities To Multifamily Property Owners in 2021

ADUs have been a big topic of discussion due to the new laws recently passed, both at the California state level and put into effect in Los Angeles and other local citiy ordinances.  I have written quite a few articles about how these new guidelines will affect single-family properties in LA. The city has started to make the rules reasonably clear regarding Accessory Dwelling Units and garage conversions on single-family properties.

I don’t think the same can be said for multifamily properties, where there is still lots of confusion.  So, let’s discuss what we know about ADUs (ADU definition) and garage conversions for multifamily properties.

Here at GreatBuildz, a free service that connects property owners with reliable general contractors, we get inquiries all the time about ADU guidelines from multifamily property owners – read below to learn more about the current ADU guidelines in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura or San Diego.

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Multifamily Accessory Dwelling Unit

I recently went to the City of LA Building & Safety department and spoke to one of their staff members in the Zoning section.   According to this staff person, all multifamily & apartment zoned properties are generally allowed to build an ADU or even multiple ADUs according to their ordinance.

Restriction of ADU’s Based on Property’s Zoning

Multifamily ADU

However, with multifamily properties, the city will be restricting the construction of Accessory Dwelling Units based on overlays specific to the property’s zoning.  For example, each zoning has a maximum number of total units allowed based on the lot size; and maximum FAR (floor-area-ratio) or RFA (residential floor area). This means if your existing number of units already maximize what is allowed on your lot, you may be prohibited from constructing an ADU.  Check out your property’s zoning and other restrictions at the City’s Zimas website.

Number of Multifamily ADUs is Limited

Another guideline in the city code worth discussing is the number of ADUs the city is allowing for multifamily properties.  According to the staff person I spoke with, a multifamily property is limited to adding up to 25% of the existing number of units on site.  So, for a duplex, triplex, or fourplex, one ADU would be allowed. While if you had 8 units, you could, in theory, add 2 ADUs. Again, this number will still be limited by the other overlays and guidelines that pertain to your property’s zoning. 

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Parking Regulations

Los Angeles Building and Safety staff are also currently advising that the parking requirements for construction of an ADU on multifamily properties mirror those for single-family homes.  Specifically, parking is not being required for an Accessory Dwelling Unit as long as the property is within ½ mile from a transit stop (bus stops included).    

From my conversation at the city, I sense that these ADU guidelines & regulations are still in flux and it may still take some time before they are as clear for multifamily and duplex/triplex/fourplex properties as they are for single-family.  However, if you are a multifamily property owner and considering building an ADU (or several), I think it’s worth pursuing this opportunity. These approvals will be handled administratively through Building & Safety plancheck and won’t require discretionary planning department approvals (assuming you meet all zoning guidelines).  The best first step is to find an architect who has some experience with multifamily ADUs and speak to them to verify your property will qualify for building an ADU. GreatBuildz can recommend a few designers well versed in this topic. 

You can also start by doing some homework yourself.  Although you can seek advice online, you really need to get a concrete answer from someone at the city.  You can call 311 and speak to their Zoning staff to get most of the information you need. Even better, you should go in person to one of the city’s Building and Safety offices and speak to their zoning division.

Multifamily New ADU laws Parking

Please be aware that these ADU and garage conversion guidelines are still relatively new to the city’s staff, so there is still quite a bit of confusion about what’s allowed and what’s not.  Because the city staff is still trying to ‘interpret’ what State and City laws and ordinances really mean in the real world, you are likely to get different opinions from different city staff. Try to be patient and understand that these ADU rules are still ‘a moving target’.  My advice is to speak with several city staff people and ideally a supervisor, until you get consistent advice. If you’re getting conflicting advice, keep working up the chain of command until you talk to someone with authority.

In some cases, a city’s guidelines/regulations won’t jive with the new California state ADU laws. If you feel like this is the case for your situation, there are ADU consultants and attorneys that can help in these situations. Feel free to contact GreatBuildz for some referrals to these types of professionals.

If you have more questions about the ADU process or how to pick the right contractor for the project, we can help.

GreatBuildz is a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura or San Diego with reliable, thoroughly screened general contractors and provides project support from start to finish. You can call our friendly staff to be connected to several fully vetted, trustworthy contractors who are experienced with ADUs. For more info, visit or call 818.317.3567 today.

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