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All you need to know about Accessory Dwelling Units in Palm Springs

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Accessory Dwelling Units in the Desert

Paul Kaplan

I'm Paul Kaplan and I formed the Paul Kaplan Group to offer specialized services to those clients that are interested in buying or selling an architec...

I'm Paul Kaplan and I formed the Paul Kaplan Group to offer specialized services to those clients that are interested in buying or selling an architec...

Aug 29 7 minutes read



This is a guest post by Kendyl Young, founder and CEO of ADU DIGGS. ADU DIGGS provides high-end ADUs without the high-end price or hassle. They specialize in prefab ADUs and they can also build on site. Visit ADU DIGGS on the web at https://adudiggs.com

A Backyard home would be so useful in Palm Springs. It could be guest space for visitors, especially during the season, flexible space for you, and the possibility of additional income as a rental. 

In 2020 California passed a raft of important statewide regulations that made it a lot easier to add an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) in your backyard, even if your city historically didn’t allow them.

This means it is a lot easier to add an ADU in the desert!

Why Add An ADU In The Desert?

The desert has a housing crisis.  There aren’t enough homes and the price is skyrocketing. City dwellers with fat wallets migrated in droves, raising home prices and rents for the existing population.

ADUs are part of the solution. They are faster and easier to build than large housing developments, and have a low impact on existing neighborhoods. 

How Can I Use An ADU In The Desert?

Multi-Generational Housing

An ADU is a perfect solution for multiple generations to live together and share resources. A common situation is an elder family member lives in the ADU while a small family lives in the main house. Everyone has their space, privacy, and independence, while sharing a sense of community.

Long Term Rental

Adding an ADU is cheaper than buying investment property. It also starts generating positive income, usually the moment you get your keys. Most investment properties will take years before turning a profit. 

Short Term and Mid Term Rentals

A mid-term rental is between 30 days and 6 months. A short-term rental is less than 28 days. Each city has its own rules about short term rentals, and you will need to check the rules for your own city.

In many cases a city will allow a short-term rental if the homeowner lives on the property. This means an ADU could be a very profitable short-term rental in your own backyard!

Can You Add An ADU In Your Desert Backyard?

The following is a breakdown of the ADU Laws for all of California, including the desert.

Each city is allowed to add to these laws, but they can’t contradict or override them. Sometimes it is necessary to educate a city official on the state mandated law. 

California ADU Law

California ADU law, enacted in 2020 and 2021, removed restrictions around building ADUs or accessory dwelling units. These laws are passed at the state level and it limits or removes the local government's ability to remove or override them. This means it is a lot easier to understand what you can build in your own backyard.

Here is a recap of the most important points and what they mean for your future backyard home. You can read the full California Department of Housing and Community Development Accessory Dwelling Unit policy HERE.

california adu laws

California ADU Law Creates The Ideal Detached ADU

The ideal accessory dwelling unit in California

  • Under 800 SF

  • Less than 16 ft in height

  • Setbacks, 4 ft from back and sides, 6 ft from main home

A Backyard home like this is allowed anywhere in the state of California- local government can't say "no", and they can't add additional permit fees (known as impact fees).

It is possible to build a larger ADU or one that is taller, but the maximum can vary by local jurisdiction.

Reduced Permit Fees

Impact fees are additional permit fees added by local government when homeowners add living space to their homes. The fees are supposed to offset growing infrastructure costs like schools and roads. These fees can add anywhere from $3,000 - $30,000 to a construction project.

The new California ADU laws prohibit these impact fees for any ADU that is less than 750 sf.

Add More Than One ADU

In general- a homeowner can add one detached ADU and one attached Junior ADU (JADU) per single family home.

SB-9 is a very recent California ADU law that allows a homeowner to split their lot into two lots. Each lot can have a home and an ADU for a total of 4 housing units and the separate lot can be sold. The homeowner must occupy one of the units.

No Lot Size Restrictions

There are no restrictions regarding lot size or lot coverage. This means even small lots can add a backyard home. Floor Area Ratio or lot coverage rules do not apply to an ADU. Your only limit is the proper setbacks.

No Owner Occupancy Requirements

The homeowner is not required to live in any of the housing units. Prior to the new state accessory dwelling laws individual cities could choose to require owner occupancy.

This means investors are able to add ADUs and JADUS to create more rental housing.

Reduced Parking Requirements

You are not required to add off-street parking as long as your site is within 1/2 miles from a public transportation stop.

HOA and Historic Districts Can't Say No

You can add an ADU even if your homeowner's association laws restrict or prohibit them. This is also true for historic overlay districts. They can impose requirements around aesthetics and visibility- but they can't say no.

ADU LAWS- F.A.Q

Can I build a two-story Backyard House?

It depends on your local jurisdiction. The local planning department will review your plans and determine if they will allow a second story. California ADU Law only ensures you can build a backyard home that is under 16 ft in height. A lot of cities in the Los Angeles area are against second story ADU additions- but each situation is unique.

How about an ADU over my garage?

This is nearly the same answer as above. The added information is that most garages were not built to hold the weight of a second-story addition. If your area allows a backyard home over your garage you will probably need significant structural modifications.

My garage is built on the property line. If I convert it, will the 4 ft setback rule apply?

No, but that is ONLY if you convert within the original footprint of the garage. Expanding in any direction triggers the 4 ft setback rule. Read: ADU Garage Conversion FAQ

What is the largest ADU allowed under California ADU law?

The largest Backyard home allowed under California ADU law is 1200 sf. However, your local jurisdiction has the authority to approve or deny any backyard home over 800 SF.

Is An ADU Possible In Your Backyard?

Does your backyard qualify under the new California ADU laws? Get our Free Consultation to find out what is possible for your property.

Click Here to Schedule Your Free Consultation



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