California’s SB 9 Law Gives Single-Family Home Owners New Property Rights

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California Senate Bill 9, which seeks to eliminate single-family zoning statewide, became law on September 16, 2021 and officially goes into effect on January 1st. Intended to increase housing availability and ease inventory shortages, SB 9 affords homeowners the right to build an additional residential structure on their property, or subdivide their lot into smaller parcels to sell or build on. Proponents of SB 9 believe the option to split lots will increase opportunities for new homeownership and ease affordability challenges facing first-time buyers and renters.

While experts estimate a 2 to 3 million unit housing shortage in the state that might be eased somewhat by the new law, opponents fear SB 9 will bring more harm than good to residential neighborhoods and will negatively impact the quality of life in areas that have traditionally been zoned for single-family dwellings. 

Property owners who do split their land into multiple lots must commit to occupying one lot as their primary residence for a minimum of three years. These homeowners will then have multiple options for developing their newly created lots—including single-family homes, duplexes, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Some local municipalities may impose specific restrictions, for example, communities located in high-fire areas may be excluded, but generally speaking, the law allows up to 2 ADUs on each of the new lots with a maximum of 8 units total.

A UC Berkely Terner Center study concluded that the bill would be helpful in easing inventory challenges, but noted there is no language in SB 9 addressing affordability, so only time will tell whether the bill will result in affordable options for California’s homebuyers and renters. Perhaps the most significant challenge facing Californians related to SB 9 is whether neighborhoods are prepared to include additional families within their boundaries.

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