Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) Regulations Update





  • City Council Update on ADU Ordinance Implementation October, 2017
  • Planning and Transportation Commission Study Session December, 2017


For Questions and Information on ADU Ordinance email at

Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance Update

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The Palo Alto City Council adopted the new Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) and Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit (JADU) regulations on May 8, 2017. The new ordinance has become effective from June 8, 2017.
For details on the new ordinance and summary of the changes please click the links below.

Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance No. 5412 

ADU Handout - Summary guide to ADUs and Junior ADUs permitting process in Palo Alto.

Section 18.42.040 of Zoning Code
 requires recordation of a deed restriction with Santa Clara County Recorder's Office prior to issuance of a building permit for an ADU and JADU. Please use the appropriate agreement for recordation process.

ADU Deed Restriction Agreement
JADU Deed Restriction Agreement

What is ADU/JADU?
Some Highlights
Recent State Regulations


What is a Accessory Dwelling Unit?

An Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU), or Second Dwelling Units as referenced in the Palo Alto Municipal Code, are also commonly referred to as granny units, in-law units, or backyard cottages. The recent State bills officially designate such units as Accessory Dwelling units, so they will be referred to as ADUs for this process. An ADU is a separate self-contained smaller living unit with bathroom and kitchen facilities located on the same lot as the single family residence. It can be either detached or attached from the primary residence with a separate entrance. ADUs are permitted in all residentially zoned districts, including the Single Family Residential (R-1) District.

ADUs can provide a multitude of benefits to a community. They provide additional housing options that may be more affordable. They provide opportunities for owners to rent out rooms to supplement income, allow multigenerational families to stay closer together, including allowing seniors to age in place. If designed appropriately, ADUs create minimal impacts on neighborhoods, while providing much needed housing. An average of four to five ADUs are legally built per year in Palo Alto. Incorporating some of the new State required regulations may help to encourage construction of new ADUs.

What is a Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit (JADU)?

JADUs are units with approximately 500 square feet (sf) of living space contained entirely within an existing single-family structure. A JADU unit may include separate bathroom and kitchen facilities, or may share facilities with the existing structure. They have a private entrances and are separate from the main living area, however, the connecting door remains and can be secured from both sides.

What prompted this update?

High housing costs, particularly in the Bay Area, has recently been the subject of much discussion. Palo Alto’s high housing cost, the demand for a variety of housing types, along with demographic changes with an aging population, have encouraged the City to find opportunities to increase its housing stock. Policies in the City’s adopted
Housing Element (2015-2023) recognize ADUs as important source of affordable housing and requires the City to explore ways to increase construction of such units.

In response to address this well acknowledged regional issue, Governor Brown has signed three new laws SB 1069, AB 2299 and AB 2406 designed to encourage construction of ADUs. These bills will ease the regulatory burdens of existing local laws and remove barriers that have discouraged homeowners from constructing second units.

Recent State Regulations on Accessory Dwelling Units:

In September 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed three important bills: SB 1069, AB 2299 and AB 2406 on ADUs, which will take effect from January 1, 2017. The City of Palo Alto’s existing second unit regulations must be updated to meet the new requirements. The areas of Municipal Code that needs to be updated and adjusted to reflect the State laws include parking requirements, parking in setbacks, minimum distance between primary unit and ADU.

Following are some highlights of SB 1069 and AB 2299.
   • The ADU must be under the same ownership as the primary residence and may be rented. 

   • Parking requirements for accessory dwelling units shall not exceed one parking space per unit or per bedroom. These spaces may be provided as tandem parking on an existing driveway. 

   • Parking will not be required for an accessory dwelling unit in any of the following instances:
        o The ADU is located within one-half mile of public transit. 

        o The ADU is located within an architecturally and historically significant historic district. 

        o The ADU is part of the existing primary residence or an existing accessory structure. 

        o When on-street parking permits are required but not offered to the occupant of the ADU. 

        o When there is a car share vehicle located within one block of the ADU.

For more detailed information on SB 1069 and AB 2299 visit

SB 1069

  - AB 2299:

In addition to SB 1069 and AB 2299, Governor Brown also signed AB 2406, a bill encouraging construction of Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit (JADU) as an additional type of housing

Assembly Bill No. 2406 (Junior Accessory Dwelling Units(JADU))

For additional background information on ADUs please visit ABAG website at:

HUD Memorandum on Accessory Dwelling Units, December 2016

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Public Hearings on Accessory dwelling Unit Ordinance
City Council Hearings

Third Meeting 5/8/2017 Second Reading

On May 8, 2017 the City Council had the second reading of the Accessory Dwelling Ordinance and adopted it.

CC Second Reading on ADU - Staff Report
CC Second Reading Action Minutes

Second Meeting 4/17/2017 Public Hearing and First Reading

On April 17, 2017 the City Council held the first reading of the draft Accessory Dwelling Ordinance and approved the ordinance with some changes.

CC First Reading on ADU - Staff Report
CC First Reading Meeting Action Minutes

First Meeting 3/7/2017 Public Hearing

On March 7, 2017 the City Council held a public hearing and considered an ordinance to amend Palo Alto Municipal Code to implement State Laws on Accessory Dwelling Unit and Junior Accessory Dwelling Units.

CC Public Hearing on ADU - Staff Report
CC Public Hearing Meeting Action Minutes

Planning and Transportation Commission Hearings

Third Meeting 11/30/2016

On the November 30, 2016 PTC had the final hearing on this item. In this hearing the PTC adopted the staff recommendation of amending Title 18 (zoning) of the Palo Alto Municipal Code to implement new State law requirements on Accessory Dwelling Units and Junior Accessory Dwelling Units. The PTC also included several additional amendments to further remove constraints preventing construction of more ADUs. These are included in the draft ordinance. 

PTC Public Hearing on ADU-Staff Report  
PTC Public Hearing Meeting Minutes 

The Planning and Transportation Commission held two study sessions on this topic, in January and in July 2016.
At the first study session, the PTC reviewed the benefits of building more ADUs and the constraints posed by existing development regulations. The PTC also reviewed some of the common practices and regulations in some Bay Area cities.

Second Meeting 7/27/2016

At the second study session held in July, staff provided the PTC with an update on the additional research that was requested regarding constraints and regulations from other cities, including a summary of municipal code changes that could increase ADU production. 

PTC Study Session PTC Staff Report 
 PTC Study Session Meeting Minutes

First Meeting 1/27/2016
PTC Study Session Staff Report 
PTC Meeting Minutes

Upcoming Hearings

Please email for questions and information.

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Some Useful Resources

City Council October 19, 2015 Colleagues Memo on ADU 

2)  City of Palo Alto’s
Municipal Code Requirements Section 18.12.070 (R1 Single Family Residential District) Second Dwelling Units Section

3)  City of Palo Alto's
Municipal Code Section 18.10.070 (RE, R2, RMD Districts) Second Dwelling Units Section

Zoning Ordinance Technical Manual for Single Family Residential Zones (Pages 50 & 51) 

Second Unit Legislation effective from 2003

Examples of Accessory Dwelling Regulations from Other Cities

City of San Rafael

City of Santa Cruz

City of Menlo Park

City of Redwood City

City of Belmont

City of Mountain View

City of San Francisco

City of East Palo Alto 

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Accessory Dwelling Unit Mail List
Last Updated: Nov 14, 2017