The California State Legislature passed into law proposals brought forth by the Town of Truckee disallowing homeowners associations from regulating ADUs, validating an attempt to ease organic local solutions to the housing crisis.

“Call it gentle density or subtle density or beautiful density. There are very few places around California with housing shortages that don’t see ADUs as a great source of potential bedrooms,” said Jeff Loux, Truckee town manager. “There’s so many benefits, so why don’t we see more of them? The reasons are pretty clear.”

ADU is short for accessory dwelling unit (a type of housing also known as a secondary unit, in-law unit, or granny flat) and is seen by many as part of a multi-faceted solution to the housing crisis in Truckee/Tahoe that would create more long-term rentals for locals.

Numerous benefits of ADUs listed by Loux and other housing advocates in the area, like Seana Doherty, project director of the Mountain Housing Council, include maintaining the look and feel of a neighborhood; helping homeowners pay their mortgages with rental income; adding housing for elderly or young family members of the primary homeowners; creating more socially and economically equitable neighborhoods (rather than neighborhoods segregated by income level or socioeconomic status); and simply providing more places to rent for those who live and work in this community.

Last spring, Moonshine Ink reported on these benefits and the many barriers facing ADUs in the Truckee/Tahoe region, including cost of construction, fees and regulations, misinformation and lack of education in the community, lengthy permitting processes, and septic restrictions (see Small Homes, Big Obstacles). One major historic challenge to building ADUs in this region — rules and regulations in HOAs — is now null and void, thanks to the passage of Assembly Bill 260 originally proposed by Truckee.

“The Town would permit ADUs and people might build them,” Loux told Moonshine. “But they built them essentially illegally from the homeowners association’s point of view. They were breaking their own CC&Rs [Codes, Covenants, and Restrictions]. And there’s a number of those that are out there, mostly in Tahoe Donner. That led [the town] to say, ‘How can we make some inroads into HOAs and their banning of ADUs?’”

Loux’s team researched local HOA restrictions against ADUs and met with them in person to see if they would consider changing their CC&Rs to provide more housing for the community. The answer in most cases was no because it would require putting it to a vote before the homeowners.

“We got to the point where we realized the only way we were really going to shake this loose is to have the state override HOAs, which it has done in a number of other cases,” Loux said. The State of California overreaches HOA authority regarding regulations on solar panels and electric charging stations to benefit statewide social and environmental priorities. Truckee town staff thought, why not see if the same mode can be used to push the needle on affordable housing options?

The Truckee town staff sought to write the proposal in simple, clean language with the help of the town attorney. The wording made it to Sacramento to be approved by state legislators and signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Aug. 30. The new law prohibits HOAs from banning ADUs outright or imposing restrictions that would unreasonably increase the cost or ability to construct an ADU.

“[AB 670] actually voids any existing HOA prohibitions on ADUs. It’s not just new construction, it’s existing or new,” said Chris Mertens, government affairs director of the Sierra Business Council. The law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Moonshine Ink reached out to multiple local HOAs for comment but was not able to receive a consensus statement at this time. The Glenshire/Devonshire Residents Association stated that they will not be able to comment on the law until after discussion at a board meeting, while Tahoe Donner was not available for comment.

The Town of Truckee’s involvement in AB 670 is noteworthy, but it is not the only piece of ADU legislation with local implications to pass through the state legislative session that ended Sept. 13. Three other ADU-freeing bills were approved and, as of press time, were waiting to be signed into law by the governor, who has until Oct. 13 to do so or veto the bills.

Stephanie Freedman Herrera, Placer County public information officer, explained the local impacts of these further pieces of legislation, if signed into law.

“… SB 13 would reduce ADU development fees as much as $15,000 to $25,000,” she said. “Also, if signed, AB 68 would prohibit local ordinances from imposing minimum lot size and lot coverage requirements, while AB 881 removes owner-occupancy requirements for ADUs. Placer County is excited to see new state regulations that would empower homeowners by making ADUs easier and less expensive to build.”

Freedman Herrera also said the county initiated collaborations with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to amend ADU regulations in the Tahoe Basin. Placer County will keep an open dialogue and partnership with the TRPA on how these new regulations will be implemented.

If it sounds like there’s momentum growing around the idea of ADUs as a viable solution to the housing crisis in the Tahoe region and throughout California, that’s because there is. These new laws are developing at a time when our region’s own housing experts, the Mountain Housing Council, are working on a white paper with recommendations on how to continue to alleviate barriers on ADUs.

“The Mountain Housing Council has been tracking the state policy agenda and ADUs have always been at the top, and that’s because the state of California recognizes ADUs as just one of the promising tools coming forward to create more housing to help with our statewide housing crisis,” Doherty of the MHC said.

The Mountain Housing Council’s goal in creating a white paper on ADUs is twofold, according to Doherty. In addition to providing the community with information surrounding ADU rules and regulations, they also want to provide people with tools and resources to help ADUs open up as long-term rentals. To do that, says Doherty, “There needs to be some kind of mechanism in place, whether it’s a deed restriction or something else, that makes sure new ADUs are built for primary, not secondary residents or visitors.”

As Moonshine reported earlier this year, cost is the number one barrier for homeowners interested in building ADUs, and both Loux and Doherty agree on this. Even with the new and pending state laws geared toward removing certain barriers and even reducing the cost of fees, building an ADU is not cheap, especially in Tahoe’s harsh mountain environment.

“We also need to come up with a way to bring the cost down for the homeowners, like a modular-type ADU,” said Doherty. “And create incentives for homeowners. The state laws do make it easier, but they are not the only answer. And ADUs are not going to solve our housing problem; it’s one of many tools we need in the toolbox.”