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The California State Capitol building
The California State Capitol in Sacramento. File photo
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New granny-flat law could help Encinitas with its affordable-housing shortfall

ENCINITAS — A state bill sponsored by Encinitas that makes the permitting of older “granny flats” easier has become law. It’s hoped that Senate Bill 1226, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed on Sept. 30, will provide an additional tool for cities statewide to increase their housing stocks and meet affordable-housing goals.

The law will become effective on Jan. 1, 2019, allowing accessory dwelling units — also called granny flats, in-law units, above-garage studios and backyard cottages — to be permitted based on the codes in effect at the time the units were built.

Brenda Wisneski, development services director for Encinitas, wrote that the law will enable the city “to issue a retroactive building permit for an existing residential unit when there is no record of a permit being issued.” A housing inspector will have the ability to certify that a granny flat constructed in 1970, for instance, is safe and habitable based on 1970 housing code.

By not requiring an owner to bring the unit up to current code, which is often infeasible and prohibitively expensive, it is hoped that more homeowners will register their rentals.

That, in turn, would allow cities like Encinitas — which has struggled to comply with state housing laws pertaining to supply and affordability — get more of these living spaces officially counted as housing inventory.

Survey efforts by the city revealed that about 25 percent of accessory units that were granted permits in Encinitas since the start of 2010 had been rented at rates classified as affordable to low- or very low-income households.

That bodes well for increasing the affordable-housing stock without, in this case, new development — which often faces resistance and is a slower solution to addressing the shortfall.

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear, who advocated for SB 1226 in Sacramento and worked with lawmakers to get the bill passed, told The Coast News this summer, “If we’re serious about moving the needle on these longstanding housing problems, we need to approach it from all angles. These shadow, uncounted granny flats are real housing in our city.”

SB 1226 is the first bill that Encinitas has sponsored in more than 20 years. Sen. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel), who represents the 36th District covering Encinitas, Carlsbad, Vista, Oceanside and parts of Orange County, authored SB 1226. It received overwhelming support in the California State Legislature.

Wisneski stated, “The City anticipates there are numerous accessory units that were constructed previously that have not been accounted for in our housing inventory.” She noted that Encinitas will “be conducting outreach efforts to encourage owners to submit a building permit application to ‘legalize’ these units.”

In order to ascertain when a structure in question was constructed, Wisneski suggests that owners interested in securing permits start gathering evidence that would assist in making that determination.

The legislation is expected to have a positive impact statewide. Encinitas City Councilman Tony Kranz said at the Oct. 10 council meeting that he had attended a gala where people from various cities expressed their excitement over SB 1226. Kranz told Blakespear, “It does seem pretty clear that there were other jurisdictions that this will help, so congratulations.”

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