Best Cities to Build an ADU in California

Best Cities to Build an ADU in California

In Which Ways Is California Getting More ADU-Friendly? Which Cities Are the Best to Build an ADU in California? 

Although it’s not a secret that California is extremely ADU-friendly, not all cities and counties are equally welcoming to ADU projects. Amid new laws and the change in all our daily lives that came out of necessity during the past year and a half, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are getting increasingly popular.

The California’s housing crisis is at its peak. The median house prices go way above $800,000, which is far from affordable. So, it’s no wonder that affordable housing seems to be on everyone’s mind. 

Some cities, such as San Jose and Los Angeles have already jumped on the ADU bandwagon. They are encouraging people to exchange their picture-perfect green lawns for ADUs that will:

  • provide more usable living space
  • add value to the property
  • provide affordable renting units to the community
  • encourage multigenerational living and aging in place

These, along with many other benefits of ADUs, have contributed to a 30% increase in ADU building in California. But is that increase state-wide? Or are there some cities that are more ADU-friendly than others? Let’s find out which cities are the best to build an ADU in California!

Build an ADU in California | ADUs Are More Accessible Than Ever

build an adu in california it is more accessible than ever before

Accessory dwelling units or ADUs are also known as granny flats or in-laws suites. Why? Because not that long ago, they were built as a means to an end — have more livable space for elder relatives without compromising anyone’s privacy. They were an excellent way to have your in-laws or parents move in with you without actually having to share all your living space with them.

Today, ADUs are so much more than that. Of course, they are still an excellent way to make your household a multigenerational one. But they are also a great source of extra income. Not to mention, they provide extra space for guests, boomerang kids that are forced to move back in with their parents, or extra home office space.

Of course, none of that would actually matter in the grand scheme of things, were they not also an ideal way to tackle the housing crisis in California. This fact alone pushed California lawmakers to ensure that ADU building doesn’t require jumping through bureaucratic hoops as it once did.

With the realization that building new homes on existing lots and then renting them out at affordable prices (as long-term rentals) could help with the housing shortage came new laws that guaranteed that ADU building goes more smoothly and quickly than ever before.

There’s a New Law in Town

Each city and county had its own set of rules regarding zoning regulations. More specifically,  not that long ago, ADU building regulations were different from city to city.

So, the state of California did what it could. It introduced new bills that are ADU-friendly:

  • the Assembly Bill No 68 that allows ADUs and JADUs on single-family properties
  • Assembly Bill No 881 that allows the same on properties that have multifamily dwellings
  • Senate Bill No 13 that abolished the previous rule that the homeowner (and ADU owner) had to live on the property in order to rent the ADU out
  • the Assembly Bill No 670 that blocked HOAs from interfering with ADU building

Senate Bill No 9

Of course, these are just some of the bills that California passed in order to ease ADU building and encourage it. Most recently, in September of 2021, Senate Bill No 9 has passed and is waiting on Assembly approval. It’s the boldest of all housing bills in recent years. It’s also one that has the most potential to impact the California housing crisis.

Per this bill, all single-family lots will be eligible for building new dwellings (or ADUs). But, these ADUs can be considered new, for-sale entities. 

That can happen either by subdividing the lot and building new dwellings or splitting the existing homes into multiple units. So, in other words, either by building detached or attached ADUs.

Why is this important? Well, up until now, you could only rent out an ADU. If the bill passes, it will allow homeowners to create new units and sell them. So, it will provide new homeownership opportunities to prospective buyers. The most important thing is who these potential buyers are. They are the low-income families that otherwise might not be able to afford to buy a house in California.

where to build your new adu in northern california

Where To Build an ADU in California

It’s clear that the entire state of California is working hard on solving the housing crisis and making ADUs even more accessible. But, as mentioned, not all counties will welcome new dwellings with open arms. So, let’s see which cities in California have the best reputation when it comes to ADU building.

Los Angeles

Back in 2019, Los Angeles passed an Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance (Ord. 186,481) that clears up all regulations and laws regarding ADUs and JADUs. 

As per this ordinance, most homeowners in LA are eligible for building an ADU on their property. The only stipulations are that the lots have to be in the residential areas and that there’s an existing primary home on the property. When it comes to the size of the structure, LA has no restrictions.

Another thing that LA has going for it is the LA ADU Accelerator Program that provides perks for elderly homeowners who already have an ADU on their property. This program pairs homeowners with potential tenants and helps with case management and rental payments. In other words, LA is encouraging the use of ADUs to curb the housing shortage no matter if the dwelling is a new one or not.

For new ADU owners, the city offers forgivable loans for both old and new dwellings as a part of its Accessory Dwelling Unit Loan Pilot Program.

San Jose

San Jose is so ADU-friendly that it has one whole day a week meant just for expediting the ADU applications. To make things easier on the prospective ADU owners, San Jose instituted ADU Tuesdays, during which homeowners can bring in their detailed plans and end up with a permit at the end of the day. 

Considering that ADU permits can take up to 60 days (which is an improvement made thanks to Assembly Bill No 881), getting one in just one day speaks volumes of San Jose’s determination to make ADUs accessible to all. 

Palo Alto

Palo Alto has seen significant changes in zoning laws over the past few years. Still, it made the biggest strives when it introduced incentives and fee waivers to ADU builders that were building their ADUs to use them as long-term rentals. 

These incentives were put in place for homeowners who would rent out their new ADUs at below the market rates and who would accept deed-restricted rent. 

Aside from that, Palo Alto has very few restrictions when it comes to ADUs. The lot size is no longer a factor that prospective builders have to consider. But they do need to think about the structure of their lot, given that the ADU has to be four or fewer feet away from the property lines.


In 2020, Oakland introduced the Oakland ADU Initiative as part of its ADU program. This initiative aims to increase the housing supply in Oakland and meet the demands of the market and offer a wider range of housing options. 

But that’s not all. Given that the main issue in Oakland (and California) is lack of affordable housing that’s often the biggest problem for lower-income families, the Initiative also has the goal to:

  • Provide sustainable housing options in affluent, job-rich neighborhoods that would otherwise be out of reach
  • Subsidize the cost of homeownership
  • Provide the option for aging in place and multigenerational households
  • Provide cost-effective housing

Redwood City

The Redwood City respects the state-wide ADU regulations. That means that everything we talked about previously, such as the changes regarding lot size, potential HOA disturbances, and ADU size, applies in Redwood.

So, if you live in Redwood, you can add at least one ADU to your property, no matter the lot size. If you’re planning on building a one-bedroom ADU (which is the most common), your ADU can be up to 850 square feet. If you’d prefer a two-bedroom, you can take up to 1,000 square feet of your lot.


Inglewood has some of the most lenient ADU requirements in all of LA County.  Unlike many other Californian cities, this one doesn’t have any restrictions regarding ADU size, height, the number of bedrooms, etc. The only thing you have to pay attention to is the minimal ADU size. It can’t be below 150 square feet.

Moreover, Inglewood also has quite low fees for ADU building. 

Overall, Los Angeles County has some of the most ADU-friendly cities in California. La Mesa, Lakewood, Pasadena, and many others are extremely welcoming to ADUs. What’s more, they all passed laws and bills that have the sole purpose of making the process of building an ADU easier and quicker.

Build an ADU in California with Cedar — No Matter Where You Are

Generally speaking, California is becoming more and more ADU-friendly as we speak. Cedar is veteran ADU building company. So, we’ve seen all of these changes first-hand. What’s more, we also see their impact on the day-to-day lives of our clients. 

cedar builds all year around

That’s precisely why we’re dedicated to bringing ADUs that are the perfect blend of the Californian spirit and Scandinavian design to any neighborhood in California.

Our turn-key solutions will look stunning in your backyard! Not to mention, they’ll lend a much-needed hand when it comes to more housing relatives or getting that extra income. To build your future dream ADU, give us a call today!