Are garage conversions legal?

Sunday Signal

Garage conversions come in many forms. I’ve seen a few things “out in the field”:

I’ve seen garage conversions to studio apartments for family members, with stall showers and efficiency kitchens. Some of these have been well-done and are even “nice.”

I have also seen the above that are in no way awesome, with non-code compliant electrical and plumbing, with plastic pipe for gas appliances, no or limited ventilation with gas water heaters or space heaters, open electrical junction boxes, no smoke or CO detectors, distinct mold smell indicating leaks, limited access, drafty and rodent-accessible — immediate health and safety hazards to not only that space, but the entire structure.

I’ve seen “man caves” that would knock your socks off, with bars, paneling, and huge screen TVs and great sound systems with tiered seating in ultra-comfortable chairs.

I’ve seen some basic efficiency apartments, rented out to students, friends, and sometimes, whole families who might have fallen on hard times. Renting out space can help with the mortgage payment, and I don’t begrudge people who want or need to make some extra cash. I work with a lot of people, and everybody has a story and often, challenges of one kind or another.

However, you started reading this wanting an answer to the question, are garage conversions legal? Short answer: It depends.

Lately, we’ve seen a substantial increase in garage-conversion units, also known as “granny flats” or “Accessory Dwelling Units“ (, due to California’s Senate Bill 1069. The bill, enacted in 2017, was designed to increase housing supply by easing on garage-conversion units. The bill also presents an opportunity for homeowners to increase their home value by adding liveable space to their home without dealing with the previously stringent permitting process.

Prior to the enactment of SB 1069, a legal garage conversion, particularly in the Los Angeles area, was time consuming and expensive due to the permitting process. Among other things, in order to convert a garage to living space, many cities required the addition of replacement parking spaces, large pathways from the garage conversion to the street, a sprinkler system for the new unit, and fees and charges to connect local water and sewer systems even for existing structures. In fact, the permitting system in the city of Los Angeles prior to SB 1069 was so complex that in 2016, the Los Angeles Superior Court had put a hold on garage-conversion permits due to a conflict between state law and local rules.

Enacted in 2017, SB 1069 encourages garage-conversion units by eliminating many of these requirements and simplifying the permitting process. Now, so long as a property is within 1.5 miles of a public transit system, a permit can more easily be obtained for a garage conversion of up to 1,200 square feet that starts within 5 feet of the property line.

There are potential downsides of a garage conversion. It may trigger a re-assessment for tax purposes, but it will also add value to the home when you sell. However, some home loan programs, particularly those that are federally insured, require garage or covered parking as a condition of the loan, so that might be problematic. I’m thinking of FHA and VA financing in particular. So again, the decision to go fully legal with permits and a complete elimination of covered parking may not be to your advantage when selling.

Ray “the Realtor” Kutylo is the team leader of the SCV Home Team at Keller Williams VIP Properties. The Team brings experienced and professional service, commitment and value to every transaction, whether you are a home buyer or seller. Ray can be reached at (661) 312-9461 or by email at [email protected]. The views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of The Signal. CA DRE 00918855

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