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Los Angeles Pre-approved ADU Designs

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

The biggest issue Los Angeles Home owners have when building is s an ADU is Securing the building permits. It can lead to lots of back and forth with the LA Department of Building and Safety. But, the city just passed 21 New Pre Approved ADU designs. This will save property owners lots of time and headache when building their new ADU.

Multiple architectural as well as construction firms are excited for these new pre approvals to take place. An example of this would be an architectural firm named SO-IL, who is based out of New York, and has a beautiful flower shaped ADU design. Single-family homes are making up more than 56% of the state housing stock, the creation of additional ADUs could contribute meaningfully to California’s housing shortage. The city has been working on ways to bolster their construction; one program as an example is the L.A.'s ADU Accelerator Program which helps homeowners find and retain elderly tenants for backyard granny flats or ADUs.

Christopher Hawthorne, who is the city’s chief design officer, is claiming that the permitting process for ADUs will soon be an “over the counter experience” meaning that he would like to make it extremely easy for prospective ADU builders. He hoped to do this by offering over a dozen designs for accessory dwelling units through the city’s ADU Standard Plan Program. Under this plan, which includes designs by private licensed architects and engineers which will accommodate various site conditions. Plans are then reviewed and pre-approved by LADBS for compliance with the Building, Residential, and Green Codes. When the applicant selects an approved Standard Plan, LADBS staff will review site-specific factors for your property, including compliance with the Zoning Code and foundation requirements. In its first form, the program will feature designs by a range of architectural studios, from the well-established to the up-and-coming, including Escher GuneWardena, Fung + Blatt, Taalman Architecture, Design, Bitches and wHY, the Culver City-based firm led by Kulapat Yantrasast that has had a hand in numerous museum expansions — most recently, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. The New York-based SO-IL, the designers behind the well-reviewed Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at UC Davis, contributed the flower-shaped-studio concept.

Eric Garcetti, the Mayor of Los Angeles, is rolling out this Standard Plan Program in order to fight the housing crisis. Garcetti and the California Department Of Housing and Community Development now encourage the building and Use of ADU’s as an important source of housing to help combat the housing crisis our communities are facing in California. California’s housing production is not keeping pace with demand. In the last decade, less than half of the homes needed to keep up with the population growth were built. ADU’s make it possible for more homes to be built without creating new land. Accessory Dwelling units are an affordable alternative to apartments and they put money in the hands of homeowners which stimulates the economy. More homeowners collecting rent from a newly built ADU means less defaults on mortgages. This creates a ripple effect that helps the economy in California stay stable. ADU’s increase values of homes. With more ADU’s being built, the value of homes in California is increasing which creates a supply and demand chain for property in California.

The Standard Plan Program will be accomplishing several goals. These goals include: simplifying the construction of ADUs which are a critical form of housing in the midst of a housing crisis. It also Supports the work of forward-thinking architectural firms at a time in which many of these firms have been financially hammered by the pandemic. Hawthorne says that smaller types of construction can be a “lifeline” for these smaller construction firms. The main goal of the plan is to remove the barriers that arise when building an ADU. The main barrier to the construction of ADUs has been securing the permits to build, which is a process that can take up time and money. By offering pre approved designs, the ADU Standard Plan Program helps remove that issue.

The city’s Permit Application Site shows permits for anything needed when building your ADU in a simplified way. In L.A., similar standard plans already exist for swimming pools and staircases; meanwhile, other cities have already adopted or are in the process of adopting standard plans for ADUs.

ADUs have become more and more important in Los Angeles as time has gone on. State legislation that was passed in 2017 led to a change in the ways ADUs are regulated in the state. The measure allowed for the construction of ADUs in cities that had previously prohibited them (such as Newport Beach) and made it easier for city planning departments to approve their construction provided that terrain and design met certain basic conditions. According to the state of California, an ADU is defined as, “An accessory dwelling unit with complete independent living facilities for one or more persons and has a few variations.” What exactly does that mean? It means that ADU’s are made for independent tenants that may vary in terms of size, design, bedrooms, bathrooms, and more.

According to a 2017 study, 58% of ADUs are rented at below market value, which is definitely helping out the housing issue and expensive rent issue. ADU’s can be custom built to any homeowner’s specifications while still following all regulations that the state of California hands down to builders. ADU’s go by a few different names. Some people call them granny flats, in-law units, backyard cottages, secondary units and more. No matter what you call them, ADUs are an innovative, affordable, effective option for adding much-needed housing in Los Angeles.

Even though there are 14 different architectural firms working on this plan, each one provides an alternative and unique approach to ADU design and style. One firm, named 2-4-6-8 House is using elements that were fashionable in the 70s and 80s to create that vintage look in areas such as Venice Beach. In other areas, updated Spanish Revival as well as Mission Revival is popular. This makes sense due to California’s history. This is done by Laurel Consuelo Broughton, who is making big moves in the Southwest. Another firm mentioned, Amunátegui Valdés is a firm led by Cristobal Amunátegui and Alejandro Valdés with offices in L.A. and Santiago, Chile, who are using the project as a way to experiment with flexible spaces.Their design features a simple geometric structure that is elevated with a beautiful bungalow.

In the past 3 years, ADU applications to the city of Los Angeles have risen almost three times. From 1,980 applications to almost 6,000, the rate that people are building ADU’s is not slowing down anytime soon.. And A new initiative for affordable ADUs run by the urban design nonprofit LA Más (which also contributed a design to the ADU Standard Plan Program), is helping low- and middle-income homeowners build affordable ADUs for renting to holders of Section 8 vouchers. What is Section 8? Section 8 is a government program to assist very low income families.

The city’s main plan is to support different approaches and experimentation when it comes to ADU’s. Once the program is up and running, designs submitted by 14 architectural firms, including plans for studios and one- and two-bedroom ADUs, some which can be modified in simple ways like from a studio to a 1 bedroom. But other design and construction firms will also be able to submit their designs soon. The architects are still in control of the plans and own the rights to them, but the city is wholeheartedly supporting them.

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