How to permit and permit costs of an accessory dwelling vs. an accessory structure in Albany, CA

The Albany Planning Department has a very strict interpretation of an
“accessory building” (that is not a dwelling with a kitchen) and what triggers requiring a permit. Based on a conversation in February 2017, if a storage building (accessory structure) that is less than 120 square feet in size has power or electricity, then Albany requires a permit.

Similarly, if the accessory structure is intended for any use other than storage, Albany requires a permit. A workshop accessory building would require a permit based on the proposed use. This interpretation is unique to Albany.

Re: parking
Parking requirements have been waived as of January 2017.

Re: planning and permit costs:
Because the technician was not forthcoming with what fees would apply, we made some assumptions so that we will have a reasonable amount in the budget to account for potential fees. Our project falls somewhere between an Albany defined “accessory building” and an ADU. We exist in a grey zone which their fee structure does not account for. We think once we have a master plan for development of the back yard, we should sit down with the actual planner to review the project, and the likely phasing of the
project.

At that time we should get a clearer idea of the planning fees.

Again, the building permit fee we estimated was based on a $200,000
construction budget all submitted as a single project. That’s a number we
pulled out of thin air at the counter just to get the technician to commit
to an amount for a building permit.

As we revisit the proposal, do you have drawings of the existing house and
site that might have been prepared for your recent remodel?

Sign up to see example budgets, example floor plans, or to use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

Legalizing an existing accessory dwelling in-law unit in San Francisco

We know of just one apartment out of an estimated 30,000-40,000 illegal in laws in San Francisco that was legalized! This is the story about that apartment’s legalization process.

One of our partner architects, David Locicero recently completed the legalization of an existing in law unit in San Francisco.  The process from start to finish lasted 21 months and cost just over $50,000. This was an existing and unpermitted in-law apartment that was updated to meet current codes.

Do you wonder:

  • Can I legalize an illegal in-law apartment or accessory dwelling in my home?
  • What permits do you need to legalize an unpermitted apartment in your home?
  • What do building permits cost?
  • How long does it take to get permits?
  • How much does it cost to build or legalize an unpermitted apartment?

It’s near impossible to get the answers to these questions because very few people have done this. We answers these questions here and this is based on experience, not guesswork!

Our network of architects and contractors collectively have more experience than any other company we know of and we only know of this one project that legalized an unpermitted in-law apartment.  Of course we know plenty of unpermitted apartments.

Here are the facts about the legalization process:

When did the clients accept the design proposal and hire the architect: June 2015
When were permits submitted: September 8, 2015 (3 months of design)
When were permits approved: April 2016 (8 months waiting for permits! you should plan on the same)
Construction started: April 2016
Construction finished:  November 2016 (8 months of construction).
However we didn’t get the Certificate of Occupancy until January 2017. Between the holidays, and some confusion among the inspectors, it took us quite a while to get our “CO”. (an additional 2 months of waiting).
# Hours of design time: Approximately 45 hours including responding to plan check comments and construction administration.
We had a very good contractor and very few problems uncovered during construction. The existing conditions were very favorable for minimal design costs.
Other subconsultants needed: Title 24 (Energy Conservation Compliance). I used NRGcompliance.com
Approximate design cost: $5000
Approximate construction cost: $50,000

Total timeline: 21 Months from start to finish.

We can share much more details, copies of the plans, and review your project ideas.  It’s free to call New Avenue if you have any questions.  We offer a $250 design session in your home if you want an assessment of your property.

Here are before and after photos of the living room and bathroom:

sunset inlaw_before_1 sunset inlaw_after_1

Bathroom Before

sunset inlaw_after_3

 

Sign up to see example budgets, example floor plans, or to use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

 

Cost to design a basement remodel in Alameda, CA

The design and engineering cost for a full basement remodel, including adding a kitchen and bedrooms is $14,300.

This is for a construction project that is budgeted for $200,000 in construction spend.

The proposal is here: Basement Remodel in Alameda

Sign up to see example budgets, example floor plans, or to use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

New Permit Rules for San Leandro Accessory Dwellings Are Coming Soon!

The permit rules in this attachment are important. We have been following the rules and contributing our two cents when possible.

Don’t be deterred.  The picture on the cover is a shed! That’s not what wea are talking about here. Accessory Dwellings are homes.  Many of them are two bedrooms with an upper floor, a large kitchen and all the comforts of any custom home.  So the first pic you will see has got to go!

San Leandro Accessory Dwelling Unit Memorandum_Dec2016

If you are a homeowner, the bottom line is that you have the right to add an accessory dwelling.  Almost everyone should be able to get permits. It will be a process, but it is possible.

Sign up to see example budgets, example floor plans, or to use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

How tall can my guest house or accessory dwelling? 18 feet is ideal!

The City of Berkeley is currently updating their accessory dwelling codes and height is an issue that is being reviewed.  Many cities struggle with this.  This is a summary of what you get for 14′ vs. 18′

To calculate the maximum height you measure the height of a building from the soil to the peak of the roof.

An 18′ tall design the foundation is 1 foot, the first floor is 8 feet, a second floor is 7 feet, the floor between the two is 1 foot and the roof is 1 foot.  That adds up to 18′ total.   You get a decent second floor with a 7 foot height at the peak in this design.

In the 17′ tall design below you can see that the peak of the upper floor is 5’11”.  This design is for a guy who is 6’8, so we have a major design flaw forced on us by the height limitation.
Guest House 17' Height
In the seconds design below, we were constrained to a 15′ height.
The owner here insisted on an above ground crawl space. Owners that don’t listen to our advice is just one of the countless challenges architects and contractors have, that’s another story though:)
In this design, the foundation is 1.5 feet.  The ground floor height is 7 feet 6 inches. The floor thickness between the two floors is almost 1 foot, the upper floor is 5 feet 1 inch and the roof is one foot thicks.  1.5+7.5+1+5+1 = 15 feet total height.
This owner was not happy to have a 5 foot 1 inch tall upstairs.  No one was happy with a 7 foot 6 inch main floor.  Excavating and creating a dug out lower floor can solve this but then you have four retaining walls and a concrete floor and moisture issues that get expensive and frankly, it’s not that nice to walk down three of four steps to your main floor.
Guest House 15' Height

Adding a second floor can cut the per square foot construction cost in half – from $500 per square foot to $250 per square foot. That per square foot cost is how construction is measured and it is one of the best ways to create valuable usable space affordably.

Client Quotes and Referrals

We’ve been fortunate to receive a lot of nice feedback from the clients, architects and contractors that we work with.   We typically share this list when a potential client asks for a reference in order to verify a construction budget, construction schedule, building permit process or costs.

Thanks for the kind words, everyone!

Here are several references:

Our son, AJ joined our little family last Tuesday. Thank you for surrounding us with a strong team during all of this,it’s good to know that New Avenue, Mick and Robert have the house project under control while we’re ramping up on this whole parent project thing.

– Robert K (San Rafael Remodel, Addition, new master bathroom, seismic, 5/6/2015, 7 days after AJ’s arrival)

The very nice thing about working with you is that I don’t need to worry about the process and oversight, and vetting people to do the work.  That is a huge value for me. Our architect is a pleasure to work with.  He is very easy and has been responsive and flexible and understands what we’re looking for.  And he certainly knows his business and how to work with the City. So that’s great.

– Marian M (Berkeley master bedroom and master bathroom remodel, client note from 5/2015)

The architect is designing such a nice cottage that I might just move in myself and rent out the main house!

– Ellen H (Albany, CA  client, detached music studio, guest house, landscaping, new bathroom)

Having a fully integrated way of controlling correspondence along with billing is nonexistent… this is really great

– Miklos, General Contractor (Alameda historic restoration, Berkeley accessory dwelling, San Francisco Addition, San Francisco remodel, Oakland guest house, Berkeley addition, El Cerrito accessory dwelling)

“You are rendering a very valuable service to the families and communities for which we have great appreciation”

-Vijai Sharma, PhD, Oakland addition

“New Avenue allows us to focus on what we enjoy doing the most – designing for clients.”

-Patrick, architect 

“Working with New Ave has been such a great experience! From the beginning, New Ave and Paks Builder have been cohesive partners and we look forward to working on many future projects together!”

– Robert P – General Contractor

“You certainly make it waay better than business-as-usual.  No doubt.”

– Prasad, Client

“I’m tired of trolling Yelp and banging my head against the wall.  I just want someone to show up”

– Bryndis T

Sign up to see example budgets, example floor plans, or to use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

Recent Permit Rules for Creating an Accessory Dwelling in Oakland, CA

The following is a summary of our research into a new accessory dwelling in Oakland, CA.   These answers are based on a conversation directly between one of New Avenue’s partner architects and a planner who works for the City of Oakland Planning Department.  These also apply to a specific parcel in Oakland. This is a good guideline , but your project is guaranteed to be different. 

 

Q: What is the zoning district?

A: RH-3

Q: What is the allowable coverage? How is it measured

A: 40% coverage for any and all structures. No more than 50% of the rear yard set back may be covered by an ADU.

Q: Is there a floor-area ratio (FAR) between the Main Home and the Second Unit? What is it?

A: 750 square feet OR 75% of main house, whichever is smaller

 

Q: What is the maximum allowed size for the Second Unit?

A: 750 square feet

 

Q: Do chimneys, window boxes, and/or bay windows count toward the square footage of the Second Unit?

A: Chimneys do. window boxes and bay windows do not.

 

Q: Do other structures count toward the existing footprint? What are they?

A: Any structures on the site: main house, ADU, Garage, sheds.

 

Q: Does the basement and/or attic count toward the floor area of the Main Home?

A: No.

 

Q: Can the Second Unit have two floors?

A: No.

 

Q: Can the Second Unit have a loft, mezzanine, open storage, closed storage, and/or attic?

A: Yes.

 

Q: Can the loft be habitable space?

A: No.

 

Q: Can the Second Unit have a basement, workspace, or other area? Do they count toward square footage?

A: Yes, but it counts toward the square footage

 

Q: What landscaping requirements and exceptions are there

A: None, per Moe.

 

Q: Is this a liquefaction zone?

A: Identified as a “potential liquifaction” zone.

 

Q: Is this a fire zone?

A: Yes, a wild fire zone.

 

Q: Is this a flood zone?

A: No.

Q: Is this an environmental zone?

A: No.

Setbacks and Dimensions

Q: What is the front setback?

A: 20 feet from property line

 

Q: What are the side setbacks?

A: 6 feet or 10% of the lot width, whichever is greater.

 

Q: What is the rear setback?

A: 25 feet plus 6″ for ever foot of site depth over 100 feet up to a maximum of 15 additional depth.

 

Q: What are the required setbacks to the Main Home?

A: 10 foot minimum for planning, but Building Code will regulate if we have windows in the cottage wall facing the main building.

Q: What are any other required setbacks? Special setbacks may be needed for creeks, power lines, key or corner lots, etc.

A: ADU’s are allowed to have side and rear yard set backs as small as 4 feet.

 

Q: Are there any setback exceptions?

A: No.

 

Q: Can the Second Unit be connected to the Main Home? If not, how far apart do they have to be?

A: Yes, but then then it is and SDU, and the special set backs do not apply.

 

Q: Can we continue a wall of an existing structure within a setback? Is there a maximum length for walls

A: No.

 

Q: What is the maximum height limit? Is there a max average height limit? Can we match the height of the existing house?

A: Maximum roof height is 14 feet. Maximum wall height is 10 feet

Parking

Q: Do we measure from the sidewalk, the property line, or from somewhere else?

A: Set backs are measured from the property line

 

QL How many parking spaces are required for the Main Home? Sizes? Do they need to be covered? What configuration or access must they have?

A: 2 parking spots are required for the main house. They are not required to be covered. Parking cannot be in the front yard set back (drive way parking is not considered parking by Planning).

 

Q: How many more new spaces are required for the property? Sizes? Do they need to be covered? What configuration or access must they have? Do they require a border around them?

AL 1 parking spot is required for the ADU – new legislation will not apply as this property is not in a transportation zone. New parking not required to be covered. New parking cannot be in the front yard set back (driveway). Limited to a single 19 foot wide curb cut. Minimum drive width is 9 feet.

 

Q: Is there a turning radius or other parking rule to test?

A: Depends on parking configuration, but generally no.

Q: Enter any additional notes.

A: The ADU will have to be fire sprinklered. Soils report will be required because of liquifaction zone. Fire Department review required because of Fire zone. We will have to determine the property line locations with some amount of confidence.
Sign up here or contact New Avenue for additional information about this project including floor plans, costs, timeline or to use the New Avenue free project management system: Get Started

Planning and Building Permit Rules for an Accessory Dwelling in Berkeley, CA

At New Avenue we have paid over 30 different types of permits to get residential projects approved.  These are “normal” projects too such as additions, remodels, restorations, accessory dwellings accessory structures and custom homes.

One of the architects who is a partner at New Avenue’s recently completed in depth research for the permits required to get a new Accessory Dwelling in Berkeley, CA.   Here are his findings on 9/21/2016.

We guarantee your project will be different!  This is a great starting point if you are researching.  Most people have never heard of all these fees.

Met with Jim Frank, Assistant Planner (510-981-7548) in person on Tuesday morning, September 20th.

Q: What is the zoning district?

A: R-1

Q: What is the allowable coverage? How is it measured

A: 40% lot coverage. With an Administrative Use Permit (AUP), we may be able to exceed the 40% lot coverage typically prescribed for your property if we can show that the design isn’t detrimental to neighbors’ light, air and privacy.

Q: Is there a floor-area ratio (FAR) between the Main Home and the Second Unit? What is it?

A: No

Q: What is the maximum allowed size for the Second Unit?

A: 750 SF

Q: Do chimneys, window boxes, and/or bay windows count toward the square footage of the Second Unit?

A: Yes

Q: Do other structures count toward the existing footprint? What are they?

A: Yes (covered porches and stairs and decks over paved ground surface)

Q: Does the basement and/or attic count toward the floor area of the Main Home?

A: Basements yes, attic no.

Q: Can the Second Unit have two floors?

A: By right, no (maximum height is 14′). With an AUP, yes.

Q: Can the Second Unit have a loft, mezzanine, open storage, closed storage, and/or attic?

A: Yes

Q: Can the loft be habitable space?

A: By right, no since maximum building height is 14′ and loft would not have required head clearance. A loft can be designated as storage space.

 

Q: Can the Second Unit have a basement, workspace, or other area? Do they count toward square footage?

A: Yes. Yes.

Q: What landscaping requirements and exceptions are there

A: A 2′ landscape strip needs to exist between parking and property line. 400 SF of usable open space must be provided per dwelling unit. Planting must be low to very-low water use.

Q: Is this a liquefaction zone?

A: No

Q: Is this a fire zone?

A: No

Q: Is this a flood zone?

A: No

Q: Is this an environmental zone?

A: No

Setbacks and Dimensions

Q: What is the front setback?

A: 20 feet

Q: What are the side setbacks?

A: 4 feet for ADU (unless using 50% or more of existing garage structure). Projections may not extend into setback.

Q: What is the rear setback?

A: 4 feet for ADU (unless using 50% or more of existing garage structure). Projections may not extend into setback.

Q: What are the required setbacks to the Main Home?

A: 20 foot front, 20 foot rear, 4 foot side.

Q: What are any other required setbacks? Special setbacks may be needed for creeks, power lines, key or corner lots, etc.

A: N/A

Q: Are there any setback exceptions?

A: Yes, see above.

Q: Can the Second Unit be connected to the Main Home? If not, how far apart do they have to be?

A: Yes

Q: Can we continue a wall of an existing structure within a setback? Is there a maximum length for walls

A: Yes if using 50% or more of existing garage structure. Accessory building maximum wall length of 24′ running generally parallel with a side lot line.

Q: What is the maximum height limit? Is there a max average height limit? Can we match the height of the existing house?

A: ADU: 14′ at peak, 10′ at eave for shed or flat roofs. We cannot match the height of the existing house.

Parking

Q: Do we measure from the sidewalk, the property line, or from somewhere else?

A: Property line

Q: How many parking spaces are required for the Main Home? Sizes? Do they need to be covered? What configuration or access must they have?

A: 1 for main house. Likely none for ADU though we will need to confirm with proximity map showing distance to transit stops. If an additional parking space were required, it could be tandem. Parking does not need to be covered. It does need to be 8′ wide and have a 2′ landscape strip between it and the property line. As such, parking in the driveway may not qualify (we will need to confirm with survey). If not, we can create a paver patio area in the back that meets the parking requirement but is used as a patio.

Q: How many more new spaces are required for the property? Sizes? Do they need to be covered? What configuration or access must they have? Do they require a border around them?

A: See above

Q: Is there a turning radius or other parking rule to test?

A: No, car can back up down driveway.

Enter any additional notes.

Provided we do not trigger an AUP, we can submit directly to the Building Department and they will route a copy of the drawings through Planning for confirmation. We will need to include a map showing proximity of transit stops along with the timetables of those lines.

 

For a detailed budget of this project, floor plans or to use the free New Avenue project management system you can sign up for free here: Get Started

Planning and Building Permit Rules For a Remodel, Addition and Accessory Dwelling in Orinda, CA

At New Avenue we have paid over 30 different types of permits to get residential projects approved.  These are “normal” projects too such as additions, remodels, restorations, accessory dwellings accessory structures and custom homes.

One of the architects who is a partner at New Avenue’s recently completed in depth research for the permitting fees of a new Accessory Dwelling in Berkeley, CA.   Here are his findings from June and July 2016.

We guarantee your project will be different!  This is a great starting point if you are researching.  Most people have never heard of all these fees.

Three phone conversations with Daisy Allen, Orinda Planning Department, over months of June and July, 2016

Q: What is the zoning district?

A: RL-20 (Residential Low Density 20,000)

Q: What is the allowable coverage? How is it measured

A: 4,440 Square Feet (parcel size X .2). Coverage is measured at exterior wall face and includes accessory structures. Covered porches do not count if sufficiently open.

Q: Is there a floor-area ratio (FAR) between the Main Home and the Second Unit? What is it?

A: No

Q: What is the maximum allowed size for the Second Unit?

A: N/A

Q: Do chimneys, window boxes, and/or bay windows count toward the square footage of the Second Unit?

A: Chimneys: yes. Window boxes/bay windows: no.

Q: Do other structures count toward the existing footprint? What are they?

A: Accessory structures do. Decks do not.

Q: Does the basement and/or attic count toward the floor area of the Main Home?

A: No basement. Attic is excluded where ceiling height is less than or equal to 8 feet.

Q: Can the Second Unit have two floors?

A: House can have two floors

Q: Can the Second Unit have a loft, mezzanine, open storage, closed storage, and/or attic?

A: House can have a loft, mezzanine, open storage, closed storage and an attic.

Q: Can the loft be habitable space?

A: Yes

Q: Can the Second Unit have a basement, workspace, or other area? Do they count toward square footage?

A: N/A

Q: What landscaping requirements and exceptions are there

A: Only required to provide landscaping plan if there are significant alterations.

Q: Is this a liquefaction zone?

A; No

Q: Is this a fire zone?

A: W.U.I.

 

Q: Is this a flood zone?

A: No

Q: Is this an environmental zone?

A: No

Setbacks and Dimensions

Q: What is the front setback?

A: 25′

Q: What are the side setbacks?

A: 15′ (Daisy had originally said 10′ for interior sides but has since corrected herself)

Q: What is the rear setback?

A: 15′

Q: What are the required setbacks to the Main Home?

A: See above

Q: What are any other required setbacks? Special setbacks may be needed for creeks, power lines, key or corner lots, etc.

A: N/A

Q: Are there any setback exceptions?

A: Eaves may extend 3′ into setbacks. Open stairs may extend 4′ into setbacks.

Q: Can the Second Unit be connected to the Main Home? If not, how far apart do they have to be?

A: N/A

Q: Can we continue a wall of an existing structure within a setback? Is there a maximum length for walls

A: Vertically with an Exception Application. Per Daisy Allen, this would likely be granted considering the corner lot condition and existing non-conforming garage.

Q: What is the maximum height limit? Is there a max average height limit? Can we match the height of the existing house?

A: 27′ above grade. Limit follows topography. 27′ is measured to the mid-point of dormers or architectural elements.

Parking

Q: Do we measure from the sidewalk, the property line, or from somewhere else?

A: From the right-of-way

Q: How many parking spaces are required for the Main Home? Sizes? Do they need to be covered? What configuration or access must they have?

A: 2 enclosed and 2 unenclosed.

Q: How many more new spaces are required for the property? Sizes? Do they need to be covered? What configuration or access must they have? Do they require a border around them?

A: None

Q: Is there a turning radius or other parking rule to test?

A: N/A

Q: Enter any additional notes.

A: Project will require General Planning Application, Design Review Application (because of second story addition) and Exception Application (because of vertical extension of existing walls in setback)

 

For a detailed budget of this project, floor plans or to use the free New Avenue project management system you can sign up for free here: Get Started

Legalizing an Illegal Unit into a new Legal Accessory Dwelling

“We have a little secret. We have an illegal apartment in our basement/attic/garage, and 40,000 of our neighbors do too. Shhhh, don’t tell anybody… ”

Cities across the country are packed full of illegal units.  It’s part of the deal from tiny “bunkies” in rural communities to 1,000 square foot “Game Rooms” in Los Angeles.

Here’s the good news for people in San Francisco  – A change at the city level give almost all owners the right to add an in law or accessory dwelling to their home.  You can also legalize the previously built without permits.

At New Avenue we regularly receive calls about how to legalize an illegal unit.  We reached out to some of our architects to gather insights on legalizing illegal units.

The short answer, is it’s tricky. It will typically take 100 hours, and it often takes 200 hours of an architects time to get through the city process.  If you have code violations in your home then they can catch you when you try to get the permits.  Architects have to charge between $10,000 and $20,000 to do a project like this and they can not risk starting a project for you if you are not prepared to pay the full $20,000.  If they get half way through and end up working for free to finish the project then they go out of business.

To quote the responses we received from architects:

“We have one of those and it stalled after we tried to submit it to DBI. They took a strict interpretation of the code with a part of the building that was not even on the legalization checklist and it is probably going to kill the project.”
“We’re not going to take any more of them unless it’s part of a larger project, the fees are too small and there are too many headaches (I just turned down one of them via email a few minutes ago).”

“They are totally unpredictable- that’s the problem.”

“At present we don’t want to take any ADU projects with a less than a $20k fee unless it’s part of a larger contract.  It’s too much management overhead to take the really small projects.”

We’ve kept the quotes anonymous because, well, architects know that it’s all too easy to blame the messenger.

$20,000 to legalize a potentially unsafe apartment will pay for itself in resale. If you can design an additional bedroom or living space it may pay for itself in rental income too.

We can provide a full budget noting all hours for a project like this upon request.  Just Get Started here on New Avenue to do so.