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ADU Regulations & Zoning in San Diego: Navigating the Urban Maze

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ADU Regulations

So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and build an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) in beautiful San Diego. Whether you’re planning to create a cozy granny flat, a trendy Airbnb rental, or a space for extended family, ADUs can be an excellent investment. However, before you start sketching out floor plans or pouring concrete, it’s crucial to understand the intricate web of ADU regulations and zoning requirements in San Diego. Don’t fret! We’re here to guide you through this urban maze and make your ADU dream a reality!

Demystifying ADUs

Let’s begin by demystifying what ADUs are, and why they’ve become such a hot topic in San Diego.

What Exactly Is an ADU?

An ADU, or Accessory Dwelling Unit, is a secondary housing unit on a single-family residential property. These units can take various forms, including granny flats, converted garages, or newly constructed cottages. ADUs are essentially a way to make the most out of your existing property by adding another dwelling that can be rented out or used for personal purposes.

Why Are ADUs So Popular in San Diego?

ADUs are gaining popularity for several reasons:

Housing Shortage: San Diego, like many urban areas, faces a housing shortage. ADUs offer an efficient way to increase the housing supply without altering the city’s landscape dramatically.

Income Potential: For homeowners, ADUs can provide a valuable source of income through rental opportunities, helping to offset the high cost of living in the area.

Multigenerational Living: Many families are opting to build ADUs to accommodate extended family members while maintaining privacy.

Now that you’re clear on what ADUs are and why they’re the talk of the town, let’s dive into the crucial aspect of regulations and zoning.

ADU Regulations in San Diego: The Nuts, Bolts, and Sebacks

Understanding the Basics

Before embarking on your ADU journey, you need to understand the fundamental regulations governing ADUs in San Diego. Here are the key points to keep in mind:

Permit Requirements: In most cases, you’ll need a building permit to construct an ADU on your property. However, there are exceptions, which we’ll explore later.

Zoning Regulations: Zoning laws dictate where ADUs can be built. San Diego’s zoning codes are essential to comprehend before planning your ADU.

Setback Requirements: Setbacks determine how far your ADU must be from property lines and other structures. These rules are crucial for maintaining neighborhood aesthetics and safety. You can read a full in-depth article written by Sheiner Construction for ADU setbacks San Diego.

Parking Regulations: San Diego has specific parking requirements for ADUs, which vary depending on factors such as proximity to public transit.

Size and Height Limits: ADUs must conform to size and height limits defined by the city’s regulations.

The 2020 ADU Ordinance

In 2020, the City of San Diego adopted an updated ADU ordinance, which made significant changes to the ADU regulations. These changes were aimed at making it easier for homeowners to build ADUs and to address the city’s housing shortage.

Here are some notable aspects of the 2020 ADU ordinance:

No Owner-Occupancy Requirement: Previously, the owner had to live on the property, but this requirement has been eliminated.

Reduced Setbacks: The ordinance reduced the minimum setback requirements, making it easier to fit an ADU on your property.

Increased Size Limits: The maximum size for detached ADUs was increased, providing more design flexibility.

Parking Waivers: In certain cases, you can now obtain a parking waiver, eliminating the need for additional parking spaces.

Junior ADUs: San Diego also introduced Junior ADUs, which are smaller units that can be created within an existing single-family home.

Zoning: Where You Can Build Your ADU

Now that you have a grasp of the basic regulations, let’s explore zoning, which plays a crucial role in determining where you can build your ADU.

Zoning in San Diego

San Diego’s zoning laws divide the city into different zones, each with its own set of rules and regulations. These zones determine what types of buildings are allowed and how properties can be used. For ADU enthusiasts, understanding your property’s zoning is essential.

Residential Zones

Most ADUs in San Diego are located in residential zones. Here are a few common residential zones you might encounter:

RS Zones: These are single-family residential zones. ADUs are generally allowed in RS zones but must adhere to specific regulations.

RM Zones: These are multi-family residential zones. RM zones offer more flexibility for ADU construction.

R Zones: These are rural residential zones, often found in the outskirts of the city. ADUs in R zones may have unique requirements due to their rural location.

CC Zones: These are commercial zones where ADUs might be permitted, but they typically have more stringent regulations.

Check Your Property’s Zoning

To determine your property’s zoning, you can use the City of San Diego’s Zoning Information website or consult with a local zoning expert. Knowing your property’s zoning will help you understand what’s allowed and what hurdles you might face when building your ADU.

Getting Your ADU Project Started

Now that you’ve wrapped your head around the regulations and zoning, it’s time to kickstart your ADU project. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get started.

Step 1: Research and Planning

Research Local Regulations: Dive deep into the San Diego Municipal Code and the 2020 ADU ordinance to understand all the specific regulations that apply to your property.

Create a Design: Work with an architect or designer to create a plan for your ADU. This plan should consider the size, layout, and appearance of the unit.

Budgeting: Determine your budget for the project. Remember to account for permitting fees, construction costs, and any unexpected expenses.

Step 2: Check Property Eligibility

Verify Your Zoning: Ensure that your property’s zoning allows for ADU construction. If not, you may need to seek a zoning change or variance.

Setback and Size: Check that your property meets the setback and size requirements for ADUs.

Parking: Determine if your property requires additional parking spaces for the ADU.

Step 3: Obtain Necessary Permits

Consult with the City: Schedule a consultation with the City of San Diego’s Development Services Department to discuss your project and obtain the required permits.

Permit Application: Prepare and submit your permit application, including all necessary documents and fees.

Step 4: Construction

Select a Contractor: Choose a reputable contractor with experience in ADU construction.

Follow Regulations: Ensure that the construction adheres to all relevant regulations and building codes.

Inspections: Schedule inspections at key construction milestones to ensure compliance with safety and quality standards.

Step 5: Completion and Occupancy

Final Inspections: Once construction is complete, schedule final inspections with the city to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy.

Market or Move In: Depending on your goals, you can now market your ADU for rental or move in yourself.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions about ADU regulations and zoning in San Diego:

1. Can I build an ADU on any residential property in San Diego?

Not necessarily. Your property must meet certain criteria, including zoning regulations and setback requirements. It’s crucial to check with the city or a zoning expert to determine if your property is eligible.

2. Do I need a permit to build an ADU in San Diego?

In most cases, yes. You’ll likely need a building permit to construct an ADU. However, there are some exceptions, such as Junior ADUs, which may have less stringent permit requirements.

3. Can I convert my garage into an ADU in San Diego?

Yes, converting a garage into an ADU is a popular option in San Diego. However, you’ll need to ensure that the conversion complies with all applicable regulations, including setbacks and parking requirements.

4. What are the parking requirements for ADUs in San Diego?

Parking requirements vary depending on your property’s location and proximity to public transit. In some cases, you may be able to obtain a parking waiver.

5. Can I rent out my ADU on platforms like Airbnb?

Yes, you can rent out your ADU on platforms like Airbnb in San Diego. However, there may be specific regulations and transient occupancy tax requirements to follow.


Building an ADU in San Diego can be a rewarding endeavor, both financially and personally. However, navigating the complex landscape of ADU regulations and zoning is essential to ensure a smooth and successful project. Remember to research, plan, and consult with experts to make your ADU dream a reality in the sun-soaked city of San Diego. With the right knowledge and preparation, you’ll be well on your way to creating a valuable addition to your property and contributing to the solution for the city’s housing shortage. ADU regulations & zoning in San Diego can be a puzzle, but with perseverance and the right guidance, you can solve it!

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