Debut of the Junior Unit


December 18, 2014

There’s exciting news in the world of second units! A significant ordinance that will allow for simple and inexpensive permitting procedures for small second units was unanimously approved on December 9 by the Novato City Council and will go into effect in January 2015. These Junior Accessory Dwelling Units (JADUs), which are created by repurposing spare bedrooms into private apartments, will have lower permitting fees and require no extra parking spaces or sprinkler systems, making creation of a small accessory unit feasible and affordable for many Novato homeowners. What sets JADUs apart from other affordable housing options is that they make both renting and owning a home in Marin more affordable.

Lilypad Homes developed the junior unit concept and introduced it to Marin municipalities earlier this year. Prior to the passage of the JADU ordinance, the repurposing of a bedroom into a separate unit was subject to the same requirements and cost-prohibitive permitting fees as other Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), which might be created by converting unused attic space, or by constructing a backyard cottage. JADUs, however, do not affect the classification of the house as a single family home, because the door between the home and the JADU remains, but can be locked from both sides. JADUs do not increase density, as the living and sleeping capacity of a home does not change. The requirements for water and energy, the need for parking, and the impact on local roads have all already been accounted for in the original permit for the home. All that is needed to create a JADU is a bar sink, standard electrical outlets to accommodate small kitchen appliances, access to a bathroom, and an exterior entrance.

Marin has been looking for affordable housing solutions to provide homes for our children and parents, as well as for people who hold vital roles in our community such as teachers, nurses, emergency responders, and other service providers. JADUs have minimal impact on the environment, maintain the character of our community, and have a positive effect on the local economy, all while offering the least expensive housing alternative among affordable housing options. These small homes, variously referred to as in-law / second / accessory units, provide flexibility to homeowners whose needs may change over time.

Many of the towns and cities in Marin County are interested in implementing ordinances similar to the Novato JADU ordinance and most have included junior unit programs in their 2015-2023 Housing Element Drafts, proposing that junior units be used over the upcoming years to help meet assigned affordable housing unit targets (Regional Housing Needs Allocation – RHNA). Staff members from the State Department of Housing and Community Development have confirmed that JADUs with private bathrooms will count towards RHNA targets, while JADUs with shared baths will not.

If you live in Novato and are interested in finding out more about JADUs, please contact us. If you don’t live in Novato but think that JADUs are a good idea, please contact your planning department and ask when JADUs will be an option for your community.