All About ADU Fees & Waivers

While many fees for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) less than 750 square feet will be waived automatically according to SB13 (more on that below), it is often the case for larger units that fees can approach $20,000. This is typically a combination of sewer connection fees, school fees, and plan check & permit fees.

To encourage construction of ADUs, some municipalities have adopted ordinances which seek to waive or reduce many of these fees. These can lead to enormous time and money savings for homeowners looking to build a guest house on their property. Read on to learn more about fee waivers, SB13, and what this means for you.

What fees has the state waived with SB13?

Passed in 2019, SB13 refers to legislation passed state-wide in California that prevents jurisdictions from enforcing an impact fee for a dwelling less than 750 square feet. The specific fees that are waived under SB13 depend largely on the size and location of your ADU.

Your city has to present their fees to city council for review every year, in order to monitor how much they are charging residents. Should you be offered a fee waiver, this just means your city is electing not to follow the city council fee program. This has to be done legislatively, which is where the state mandate comes in to play. This denotes that impact fees under certain square footage do not apply, because the dwelling is theoretically not large enough to make a significant impact on the neighborhood and its amenities. Therefore, for ADUs under 750 square feet, the city cannot charge for those fees.

What fees do I have to pay when building my ADU?

There are three main fees associated with the build of your accessory dwelling unit: plan check fees, building permit fees, and impact fees. Let’s dive into what each type of fee entails.

What is a plan check fee?

Plan check fees involve payment for the assembly and printing of your ADU build plans before they are submitted to the city. Most cities in Greater San Diego will allow for digital submission of plans, which is cheaper as well as more efficient. However, a few cities (namely Carlsbad, Vista, Chula Vista, San Diego County, Escondido, Poway, and Solana Beach) still require in-person plan submission. In-person submission means several hundred dollars in printing costs, plus labor to drop off and pick up plans.

What is a building permit fee?

The building permit fee is the cost incurred when you submit your building plans to your city for permitting. This is required by your city for both plan review and permitting, which allows your city to ensure your build is safe, legal, and possible in your area. The County of San Diego has listed the plan review fee for accessory dwelling units as $1,565 plus an additional $0.331 per square foot. For permitting, the permit fee is listed as $1,287 plus $0.433 per square foot.

What is an impact fee?

The term “impact fee” is an umbrella statement for the three fees cities will charge homeowners when they choose to build a new dwelling. They charge for use and upkeep of the various features available to city residents. Included in this impact fee term are school impact fees, development impact fees, and housing impact fees.

School impact fees: School impact fees are incurred by new builds with the intention of paying for future renovation or expansion of public schools in the area.

Development impact fees: These fees have to do with paying for the expenses of developing your property. It pays for the use of resources involved in the development process.

Housing impact fees: Housing impact fees are charged to contribute to affordable housing in the area of development. These are intended to provide a living space for low-income workers.

What are the requirements for an accessory dwelling unit fee waiver?

Beyond the fees that have automatically been waived by the state, additional fee waivers and reductions from an individual city typically come with strings attached. Municipalities will often place conditions such as having the ADU occupied by a family member, a caretaker or a low-income tenant. In some cases, these conditions are required to be recorded against the property to ensure compliance. The work involved to obtain these waivers or reductions is relatively inexpensive, merely requiring the time to complete forms and have them notarized and/or recorded. It should be noted that not all municipalities offer such programs and those that do are unique to each municipality.

What are the steps for getting an ADU fee waiver? Should I get my ADU plans done first?

The process for obtaining a fee waiver is pretty simple. It typically involves completing a few forms, which are unique to each municipality. Then one must have one or more of the forms notarized, then submit them for the municipality to review and record on the owner’s behalf. Often these forms will request additional documentation, such as a written statement describing who will occupy the ADU (for example stating that a caregiver or family member will be the occupant) or financial information such as tax returns or pay stubs from the occupant to demonstrate qualification of low-income.

In order to request the waiver, a complete set of plans must be submitted and be in the process of plan check. This is because the fees and the waiver of those fees are tied directly to a potential building permit. If having the fees waived is a determining factor in advancing your project, it is possible to reach out the municipality in advance to better understand how and to what extent they offer waivers.

What cities offer ADU fee waivers?

Encinitas, Vista and San Diego County all offer fee waivers, and each jurisdiction has its own benefits.

ENCINITAS ADU FEES & WAIVERS

For example, Encinitas has waived all impact fees except sewer impact for ADUs over 750 square feet, and school impact fees for ADUs over 500 square feet. Thus, if you choose to build a 600 square foot ADU in Encinitas, you will have to pay school impact fees but you will not have to pay sewer impact fees.

VISTA ADU FEES & WAIVERS

The city of Vista allows homeowners building an ADU over 750 square feet to apply for a fee waiver (those under 750 square feet automatically have waived fees). Homeowners have the opportunity to have the Fire Protection, Park, Public Facilities, and Streets and Signal Development Impact Fees waived, which can translate to more than $15,000. The process to take advantage of this opportunity is outlined on Vista’s ADU website.

Any ADU may apply for this waiver, which may be granted if the following criteria are met:

  • ADU must be occupied by an eligible household for ten years from issuance of the certificate of occupancy
  • Eligible households can be either:
    • Lower income household that has a gross income below 80% of the San Diego County median income (as of 2022, that number is $63,400)
    • Family member or caregiver providing regular care to an owner or occupant of the primary unit
  • Owner must provide to the city a “Covenant Agreement Restricting Occupancy,” which will be recorded by the city

Read more about how to complete the Vista ADU Fee Waiver Program.

How will fees affect the cost of my build?

Cities are only allowed to charge as much as city council allows them to, so there is little to no chance fees will change during your build. Homeowners are made known of the costs early on, and many contractors will automatically add those costs into your overall build price so you know what to expect from the start. Cities can only charge a proportional amount of fees based on your ADU size. That being said, it is important to take fees into account when deciding on the floorplan and size of your ADU. Notably, if you are considering a smaller unit, opt for 750 square feet (vs going up to 800).

How much are ADU fees in San Diego?

For an idea of what to expect on fees related to permitting & building your ADU, check out our example for the City of San Diego below. Note that Plan Check fees would be due upon submission of your plans, while Impact & Permit Fees would be paid upon issuance of permit or during the inspection process.

CITY OF SAN DIEGO  

Example Fees by Size of ADU (sqft)

  Type of Fee Fee Rate  499  749  999  1199
 Plan Check    Plan Check Fees $1,413.78 + $1.70 / sqft (>500 sqft)  $1,414  $1,837 $2,262 $2,602
 Coastal Dev. Permit  Up to $16,500 in coastal zone      
 Historic Review (45+ yrs old)  $216        
Impact Fees   School Impact  $4.08 / sqft (>500 sqft)  $ –  $3,056 $4,076 $4,892
Sewer/Water – New Meter  $488  $488 $488 $488 $488
 Misc. Fees  $172  $172  $172  $172  $172
Permits Building Permit / Inspection $1,450.67 + $1.10 / sqft (>500 sqft) $1,451 $1,725 $2,000 $2,220
TOTAL    $3,524 $7,277 $8,997 $10,373