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When are garages legal to use as housing in California?

On Behalf of | Jan 3, 2022 | Real Estate Litigation

If you live in the Los Angeles area, you likely know someone who at one point lived in someone else’s garage because that was all they could afford – or maybe that person was you. People moving to California from other parts of the country can experience serious sticker shock at the cost of renting even a small apartment. 

Most of these garages, which fall under the more sophisticated term of accessory dwelling unit (ADU), have not always been legal under California law. As California lawmakers have worked to tackle the state’s serious shortage of affordable housing, these laws are changing. In fact, The New York Times recently featured a story about a man who had been living in his parents’ garage behind their home for years. The architecture student converted the space into one that many apartment dwellers would envy. As he noted, however, he’s only been living there legally for a few months.

What makes a garage a legally “habitable space?”

Even with California housing laws becoming more lenient, that doesn’t mean you can automatically rent out a garage as a home. It has to be habitable space. Specific requirements must be met. Not doing so can result in significant fines. In fact, even letting someone stay overnight in your garage, if it hasn’t been properly converted, can get you fined.

While individual city and county laws vary, to be considered a “habitable space,” a garage (or shed or any other structure on a property) that is used in part for sleeping must meet some basic requirements regarding ceiling height, natural ventilation and light, window size, temperature and more. It must have a smoke detector, electrical outlets, plumbing and a lock. It cannot have a gas water heater and can no longer be used as a “garage” in the sense of someplace to park vehicles.

If you own one or more real estate properties that have structures you’d like to turn into ADUs that you can rent, it’s crucial to know and abide by all of the relevant local and state laws and regulations. The best way to ensure that you’re in compliance is to have experienced legal guidance.