What are ADU Setback Requirements in California?

When it comes to planning an ADU construction, there are several legal regulations that need to be followed. Otherwise, your new accessory building will not comply with the law and will not receive the necessary permits. Although there are plenty of requirements for building an accessory dwelling unit, all of them can be easily included in your plan.

If you are in the stage of designing your ADU, you have probably heard something about the setback requirements. They are related to the way your accessory dwelling unit is going to be placed on the property and how far from other constructions it would be located. This is a safety measure that is necessary to prevent your property from any unwanted accidents.

Basically, setback measurements show the distance between a construction (an ADU, in our case) and other property elements, like the main housing unit, property borders, streets, fences, or any other constructions.

There are several setback requirements that future ADU owners need to consider in their construction plan. Following these regulations is important, as without them, the official permit for construction cannot be received.

If you are unfamiliar with setback requirements for accessory dwelling units, read further and find out everything you need to know. Let’s look at all the possible setback requirements in more detail.

Rear and Side Setback Requirements for ADUs

The first regulations to consider are the side and rear setbacks. These indicate the distance of your ADU from the side and rear property lines or fences. In general, the ADU must be placed four feet away from those property borders.

Keep in mind that if your house is located on the corner of a street, the requirements for setbacks might be different. Usually, 15 feet setback from the street that is located on the side of your lot is required. However, your local zoning rules might have different regulations for that, so it is better to check on them too.

There are also setbacks of five feet from your main housing unit. The distance is calculated from the windows of your primary residence. However, if you are planning to build an attached accessory dwelling unit, this setback does not need to be considered.

Front Setbacks for ADUs

If you want to place your ADU in the front part of the lot, there are some setback regulations for that as well. Luckily, starting in 2023, the requirements have been eased off, and now you only need to follow a four-foot setback. Previously, it was required to have a whole 25-foot setback, which was inconvenient for a lot of homeowners.

Everything is even easier for those who want to have an ADU converted from a garage. You do not need to relocate the whole structure to follow the setback regulations. Converted ADUs are not obliged to follow any setback requirements, meaning you can place them as close to the front property lines as your garage was.

Garage conversions have been a popular ADU type for a while now. They are easier to construct and serve several purposes at once: creating a new ADU space for you and getting rid of the unused parking zone.

Passing the Setback Regulations

For those who are afraid that their ADU might not fit on the lot according to all the legal setback regulations, there are several ways to improve the situation. These solutions will allow you to build an ADU safely and still comply with all the requirements.

The first thing was already mentioned, and it is garage conversions. Those types of ADUs are very convenient to implement, as they do not have as many requirements for construction and lot allocation.

The second option is to have an ADU that is attached to the primary housing. With at least one common wall, your ADU plan will not have to comply with at least one setback regulation.

For different areas, ADU setback regulations might vary. What is more, these requirements depend on the type of ADU you are planning to build. To make sure that all the regulations are followed, it is better to check not only the state and city laws but also to clarify your local zoning requirement.

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