Is multi-family housing coming to my neighborhood?  And other mysteries of SB9.

January 15, 2022

There’s a lot of noise around this new California law.  What is it all about?

California Senate Bill 9 (SB 9) went into effect January 1, 2022, which has left many local planning departments scrambling to create a process of responding to the revised zoning law. While policy guidelines are being formulated, many homeowners are confused about what is allowed under SB9 zoning updates. 

The intention of both SB 9 and revised ADU regulations was to offer a solution to California's housing crisis.  And so, the revised regulations make it easier for property owners to subdivide their urban, single-family, residential lot and/or build additional residential units on their property.

SB 9 has changed the municipal review process and requirements for subdividing as well as the number of units that must be allowed. With this new law, homeowners are able to build one or two-unit homes on split single-family lots.  The review process under SB 9 now requires objective, consistently applied state mandated reviews. This ministerial review removes local and subjective regulations that had previously existed.  SB 9 aims to simplify and expedite the permitting process, making it easier and more accessible for homeowners to build additional housing on their property.

There are mixed opinions on this new law.  Some believe it is a great option for homeowners to build additional housing for their extended families and will help alleviate the affordable housing crisis in California.  It could also be beneficial for rental-property owners who want to add a second long-term rental unit with the added benefit of increasing the rental housing stock statewide. Resistance to SB 9 is that a changing single family zoning will alter their neighborhoods.

SB 9 zoning updates have sought to address concerns with safeguards. In order to discourage developers, homeowners who split their property must commit to occupying a residence on one of the lots for a minimum of three years. Furthermore, proposed SB 9 projects cannot require the alteration or demolition of any rent controlled or moderate, low, or very low-income housing. Alteration and demolition is also prohibited for any units occupied by a rental tenant within the past three years.

To be eligible, a property must be located within an urban area and zoned for single-family use. The property cannot be located within a historic, flood or fire hazard zone, or on prime farmland, or within other environmentally protected areas.

Once the lot is split, homeowners have many options for developing housing on their newly created lots. These possibilities include single-family dwellings, duplexes, and ADUs. SB 9 entitles homeowners to build one duplex and, depending on local ordinance, up to two ADUs on each lot. This allows for a maximum total of eight units across the two lots, where there was once only one residence.

SB 9 is structured to encourage housing development in urban environments while protecting vulnerable populations and ecological areas.

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