2022 ADU Laws: SB 897, AB 221, & The HCD’s Updated ADU Handbook

Learn about California's new ADU laws SB 897 and AB 221, as well as recent updates to the HCD's ADU Handbook, and what they mean for your accessory dwelling unit.

Last updated 
November 14, 2022
2022 ADU Laws: SB 897, AB 221, & The HCD’s Updated ADU Handbook

2022 ADU Laws: SB 897 & The HCD’s Updated ADU Handbook

Accessory Dwelling Units are more popular than ever, and cities across California are recognizing the importance of ADUs in the fight to end the state’s housing crisis.

Just recently, Freddie Mac updated their ADU financing options and CalHFA extended their ADU Grant Program to help even more homeowners build backyard homes.

Now, there are more news items to add to the list of developments: the California Senate just voted to pass SB 897 and AB 221 (two new laws that clarify previous ADU legislation), and the California Department of Housing and Community Development updated their ADU Handbook.

In the following blog post, we’ll fill you in on these new developments and what they mean for your ADU.

New ADU Law: California’s SB 897

Senate Bill 897 clarifies and expands upon previously passed statewide legislation regarding accessory dwelling units.

While all cities must allow ADUs, jurisdictions are allowed to adopt ordinances to tailor the law’s implementation to their local needs. However, some cities have used these ordinances as a way to complicate or restrict the development of accessory dwelling units.

In response, Senator Bob Wieckowski proposed SB 897. While the Senate voted to pass the law, it will need to be re-reviewed by the Committee on Governance and Finance before it can be passed into law.

Once passed, this new law will limit the ability of jurisdictions to impose standards on ADUs in the following ways:

Objective standards only

ADU laws in recent years have allowed cities to implement an ordinance regarding ADU guidelines.

Now, thanks to SB 897, all standards imposed on ADUs must be objective. The law clarifies that an objective standard “involves no personal or subjective judgment by a public official and is uniformly verifiable.”

Height limit increase

Previously, cities had to allow at least 16 feet for ADU height.

SB 897 increases the height maximum to 18 feet for properties within High Transit Areas, and for detached ADUs on properties that contain multistory multifamily buildings

For all attached ADUs, the new height maximum is 25 feet.

Nonconforming structures

ADU and JADU (Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit) permits can’t be denied for nonconforming zoning conditions, building code violations, or unpermitted structures on the property, unless they pose a threat to public health and safety.

Concurrent permit review

Cities must review and issue demolition permits at the same time as ADU permits.

Applicants are no longer required to provide written notice or post a placard for the demolition of a detached garage that is to be replaced by an accessory dwelling unit.

No Group R change

SB 897 clarifies that an ADU construction does not constitute a Group R occupancy change.

Additionally, cities may not require ADU permit applicants to install sprinklers in the primary dwelling.


If an existing multi-family dwelling on the property exceeds the height limit or has rear or side setbacks smaller than 4 feet, a local agency may not require correction of the nonconforming attributes as a condition of issuing an ADU permit, nor can the agency reject an ADU application on these grounds.

Retroactive permitting

A local agency may not deny a permit for an unpermitted ADU constructed before January 1, 2018.

New ADU Law: AB 221

Assembly Bill 221 makes it easier to build accessory dwelling units easier to build and clarifies the time frame of the review process.

Updated review timelines

AB 221 dictates that local permitting agencies must return comments on an ADU proposal within 60 days. Whereas ADU projects used to get stuck in local permitting limbo, this new law requires a 60-day review turnaround time for all accessory dwelling unit applications.

Limits on local power

The new law also limits the capacity of local lawmakers to prevent ADU development, including prohibitive requirements like excessive front setbacks. This means more properties will qualify for accessory units.

ADUs in new multifamily projects

Until recently, state ADU laws let developers add ADUs to existing multifamily buildings, but not proposed multifamily buildings. Essentially, developers of new multi-unit housing would need to finish the project first, then apply for ADU permits once it’s complete. AB 221 allows developers to include ADUs in their initial multifamily proposal, and build them alongside the main unit(s).

New Updates to the HCD’s ADU Handbook

In other ADU news, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (also known as the HCD) recently updated their ADU Handbook. This government agency last updated their official ADU handbook in December 2020, and a lot has changed since then.

The July 2022 version of the ADU Handbook clarifies some of the language from the previous version and expands upon the FAQ and Definitions sections. It also includes information about 2021’s AB 345 law, which allows ADUs to be sold separately in some limited circumstances.

Additionally, the updated handbook includes new guidelines for ADUs on multifamily properties, as well as information on ADU financial assistance. The updated handbook also mentions Senate Bill 9 (SB 9), the new law that allows homeowners in single-family residential zones to split their lot and build additional units.


With all the recent increase in support, it’s safe to say that ADUs are a permanent part of the housing landscape.

While some cities originally scoffed at ADU legislation and tried to discourage development, most California cities are now embracing backyard homes and relying on them to fulfill their housing goals. When SB 897 and AB 221 go into effect in January 2023, cities won't be able to pass as many ADU restrictions. As the HCD ADU Handbook reminds us, state ADU law is the minimum. Cities should be using local ADU ordinances to further support development, not discourage it.

Thankfully, Los Angeles is an ADU-friendly city! If you live in the Los Angeles area and you’re ready to start planning your ADU, contact Otto today.

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