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In-Law Rental Unit
updated: Feb 13, 2014, 8:22 AM

By Edhat Subscriber

Hi smart edhatters! Does anybody know the rules in SB (city) regarding having a "mother-in-law" unit on the same lot as "single family residence". If there's a house with an existing separate structure that has a bathroom, how hard is it to get permission to put a kitchen in and rent it out? If it's possible, what steps should be taken to make it totally legal? Thanks for any insight.

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 494531P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 09:07 AM

I'm not completely sure but I think there is some rule about the kitchen. If there is a full kitchen in the mother-in-law residence then it will cost you more in permits,etc. But I've heard of some people putting in mini-kitchens without a stove to side-step this and avoid certain taxes and such.


 COMMENT 494534 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 09:10 AM

One of the most important aspects is that the unit has to be attached to the main residence. It cannot be a stand alone unit.

The web has all your answers as does the City of SB. Do some reading and you'll find all the answers you need to comply... or just be like most people on the lower west and east side and do whatever you want and hope the city doesnt find out...


 COMMENT 494536 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 09:15 AM

OP here... @534 it's not attached to the main house, but it's attached to the garage - think that would count as 'attached'..?

Yes, I've been trying to find info on the web, but I'm still confused so I came here! :)


 COMMENT 494537 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 09:15 AM

Go to the City planning counter on Garden St. they will tell you what you need to know.


 COMMENT 494539 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 09:17 AM

Ha! @534 is right. When I was looking for an apartment I was shocked to find some of the dumps people were trying to rent for outrageous prices! A lot of them did not look like they would stand up in a wind storm.

There's a cool show on HGTV to watch for ideas called "Income Property"


 COMMENT 494540 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 09:18 AM

A separate structure does not mean it can be permitted as a living/sleeping space in the city, even assuming it has a permitted bathroom and even without a kitchen. Have you looked to see what permits exist for the structure and what is permitted already -- including the bathroom and any shower or tub? What size is your lot? You need a lot more information to ascertain the difficulty of having a permitted legal second sleeping structure, let alone a second residence, on the same lot.


 COMMENT 494548 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 09:30 AM

This depends on your zoning. You would need to be zoned R-2 for this to be legal. For what you already have to be legal, you also need to be R2. Zoning maps are available on the City's website. And no, just because you already have an existing structure does not mean it is legal or that you may keep it if you make significant changes to your property. When did you buy the property and what did the Zoning Information Report (ZIR) say?


 COMMENT 494552P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 09:39 AM

My advice (as an architect):
Get the information straight from the horse's mouth and ask at desk at the planning department at the City's Garden Street office. One of the big issues is generally providing the required parking for the second unit, especially on the smaller (50' x 100') urban lots.


 COMMENT 494562 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 10:01 AM

552P, I am not disagreeing with you, just commenting, the City requires parking for additional housing on a residential lot? Driving through the E. Side, all those tiny lots with stacks of houses going back, they at one point were required to provide enough parking??


 COMMENT 494568 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 10:11 AM

OP here.... @552 it's on a very large lot and has ample off-street parking for 5+ vehicles. Zoning is E-2.


 COMMENT 494579 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 10:38 AM

This is a pleasant thread to read - people helping each other!


 COMMENT 494580 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 10:39 AM

Look up the Single Family Zoning (residential) Standards on line. I just found it by googling "santa barbara e-2 zoning." It was the top site.


 COMMENT 494584 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 10:44 AM

Questions for OP - is it existing? is it a violation? are you adding square footage?

Planning/zoning: They may not allow you to have a shower or tub - and the bathroom has to be fairly small without a closet anywhere near it. Ample off-street parking (potentially covered). If you're adding more than 500 sf, they start questioning more of the existing house and site. Are there any retaining walls that were built without permits? Was the house required to go to SFDB (or formerly ABR) originally? It may have to go in front of the design board...

Building Reqs: Entire "mother-in-law" structure has to be brought up to code - with insulation/shear walls/electrical/energy/etc. This can be lots of $$...

Advise - go to the City planning counter with a site plan/floor plan (can be rough) and ask them! (although you may get a couple different answers based on who you talk to). They're closed tomorrow and monday though!


 COMMENT 494589 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 11:09 AM

562 - As the code evolved to require additional parking, it does not require it retroactively, for many legal reasons. So if a house had a second dwelling before the parking space was required, it would not be "legal, non-conforming." That is, it does not conform to today's code, but it is legal.

Many, many existing houses have legal non-conforming elements as the code changes a lot. If significant improvements are made to the property, then the whole property would have to be brought up to meet today's code.

Additionally OP, the City could require a separate water meter for the second unit. Water meter permits are on the order of $30,000 today. This is the most people's road block to adding a second unit. But you can get better info at the City's planning department counter. And no, they will not follow you back home to check for violations just because you came in and asked questions.


 COMMENT 494592 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 11:21 AM

What are the rules for having a mother-in-law living in the same country as you? ha ha ha


 COMMENT 494593P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 11:24 AM

589 - good info, but about being followed back home , no, they won't do that, but they may well make a record of the inquiry and the address, depending on how detailed is the question.

If everything in Santa Barbara were required to be up to code, particularly in terms of the parking requirements (and the second unit kitchen requirements) there would be a lot more homeless people in town.

The City powers-that-be must know that, must know that if they crack down on the "illegal" dwelling units, except for those that are clearly dangerous slum housing, then a huge number of people would lose their housing. ...It was an eye-opener to work for the Census and see how many backyard units there are!


 COMMENT 494600 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 11:38 AM

Voran, you are so right. I kept waiting to read someone saying they don't believe in mother-in-laws or something.
Why can't all posts be this civil and constructive? My Mom had it right. If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. Words I've lived by!


 COMMENT 494603 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 11:49 AM

OP here @584 it is existing, 800 sq ft, bath with shower, two empty rooms.

@593p - exactly why I'd like to get as much info as possible now without exposing myself too soon! :)

Thanks everybody, please keep the nice comments coming. This is really helping me!


 COMMENT 494613P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 12:10 PM

If you are worried about them noting your address drive in immediate neighborhood (should all be under same zoning) find a house like yours without a granny structure and give that street info. If they do further investigation they will just end up at someones house who gives them a blank look and asks what granny unit?


 COMMENT 494615 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 12:11 PM

Zoning violations are driven by complaints, so as long as you keep your neighbors happy, you shouldn't have any problems with the City. If you try to alter your unit and the City finds out, then you get in trouble. And when the house is sold, if the inspector wants to cause trouble, he can flag issues that you will have to address.

My house was sold 2x in a short period and each time they had to tear out a false wall that was used to create a bedroom in the garage. Plus rip out the wiring that was used for the hot tub.

If you start reading the code, you can see all kinds of illegal things all over your neighborhood.


 COMMENT 494619 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 12:21 PM

Be prepared for neighbors like me who believe people should respect the rules and the community. I reported the illegal dwelling next door. It impacted the street. City killed it quick. I believe life will be better all around if we acted with concern for ethics and integrity, neighbors and our community and not just what we can get away with.


 COMMENT 494624 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 12:22 PM

603--I have gone into the city many times asking these questions and I just don't tell him the address there's never been a problem with that


 COMMENT 494667 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 02:04 PM

Well, one is not going to get into anything dicey by just going to see what is permitted already and you do have to give your address for that. But without that info, you really cannot know if there is a can of worms in existence already. No one is going to be curious about someone who asks to see the permit file on their property. Make sure to get a copy of what you find. No fear.


 COMMENT 494674 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 02:15 PM

You can find a majority of your files and documents online without having to go to the counter. Just Google city of Santa Barbara St. files and you should find the City website where you can enter your address and or parcel number. To see your actual original blueprints you have to go to the counter immediately to your left at the Garden Street address. That counter is completely separate from the zoning and inspectors counter And they will not tell on you that you're looking at these files.


 COMMENT 494676 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 02:21 PM

If you go to the city, you're opening Pandora's box!


 COMMENT 494696 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 03:12 PM

@676. You are not suggesting that the city is going to investigate someone who merely asks to see and copy the file for their own property?? You don't mean to create fear of that, do you?

Fear should come into play only where someone chooses to act without first doing the research and does not know what they the truth is.


 COMMENT 494709P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 04:02 PM

OP - I agree with 624. And, as other people have said - it's important to know what is "legal non-conforming". I have a 100 year old house that was divided into 3 apartments back in the 1960s. It is legal non conforming and I am very careful not to do anything that would jeopardize that designation.


 COMMENT 494762 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 08:26 PM

The city should crack down on illegal dwellings. Why even bother having zoning laws if you don't enforce them.


 COMMENT 494775P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-13 11:00 PM

The City should stop building "affordable housing" units. I, too, worked the Census as an enumerator. Wow. The amount of illegal units, including people living in garages, and people living in spaces as small as a broom closet, is amazing.

Not to mention (but I will) the single apartments housing two-three families. In one unit I counted 14 people. Yep. We already have plenty of affordable housing, and a heck of a lot of it is operating under the radar.


 FLICKA agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-14 09:06 AM

In 1980 the State passed the "Granny Flat Bill". The idea was for older people, maybe even widowed, to keep their home by renting it and moving into the "Granny Flat". Another reason was for young people to be able to buy a home and rent the "Granny Flat" to help with the mortgage. They thought, spreading people around would help stop the need for so many condos. We have a "Granny Flat" my mother built on our property and lived in her last 20 years; it was nice because I could help her in her very late life decline.


 COMMENT 494818 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-14 09:31 AM

Granny flat requirements at:
www. santabarbaraproperties. com/ areainfo/ guesthomeguidelines. html


 COMMENT 495005P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-15 12:28 AM

Asking to see the street file for your house doesn't set off any red flags. I got lots of great info about my house from looking at the file, and at the file for my neighbor's house as it turned out our lots were once a single parcel that had been split. As far as asking about second units, they don't have to know your address. The quality of the answer may depend on who you talk to.

Where I live, R-1 zoning, it's supposed to be impossible to get a second unit; however both my neighbors have second units (freestanding, with kitchen and bath). And at least one of them is legal.


 COMMENT 495123 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-15 03:41 PM

I feel that we should all be allowed to do what we please with our own property. Let the regulations and laws simply prohibit the creation of slum-lord type units, (think Dario Pini), and safety codes need to be enforced, but not being allowed the in-law, or granny unit on one's own property seems excessive Nanny-Statism to me.


 COMMENT 495168 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-02-15 07:34 PM

OP here... thanks beautiful peoples for your information, insight, and opinions! I might just resume my paid membership because of this!


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