Everybody knows we need more homes in California. But the so-called duplex bill, which the governor signed on Sept. 16, looks to be a particularly bad way to do it.
The bill basically would allow residential property owners to convert their single-family houses into duplexes. Or they could even divide their property in two and build a duplex on each of the two smaller parcels, putting four housing units on land that used to have one house.
Until now, local zoning codes usually wouldn’t allow residential property owners to do such things. But the state bill generally overrides such local prohibitions.
This means your neighbors soon could start creating duplexes and fourplexes in what until now has been a neighborhood of single-family houses. And apparently there’s not much anyone can do to stop them.
There’s lots to dislike about this bill. Take, for example, parking. Let’s say a single-family house has a two-car garage, which means the household doesn’t park any cars on the street as a routine. But if that house is converted to a fourplex with no garages, that means four, six or as many as eight cars must park on the street.
Some folks throughout the Valley area are alarmed. That’s because the duplex bill, known as Senate Bill 9, could damage the character of single-family housing subdivisions, of which there are many in the area. City councils in Los Angeles and Burbank, among others, opposed SB 9, and Calabasas Mayor James Bozajian recently said at a public meeting that SB 9 was among the biggest challenges facing his city.
I believe people should have power over their property. But not when it hurts neighbors’ properties. In this case, all residents who bought houses in a subdivision presumably were drawn to the uniform look and the desirable single-family characteristics of the neighborhood – and they probably paid up to get those attributes. But if some individuals build duplexes and fourplexes on every block, suddenly the very nature of the neighborhood is transformed. It looks different, the congestion is amped up and renters suddenly are more common. The neighborhood is forever altered. The other property owners are harmed.
To their credit, the bill’s backers did make some changes to answer some objections. Historic neighborhoods and those in fire-prone zones are off limits to SB9 redevelopment. And one important alteration said homeowners who create duplexes or fourplexes on their land must continue living in one of the units on the property for at least three years. That is meant to dissuade companies or speculators from buying up houses – or swaths of houses – and redeveloping them into fourplexes.
But how do you enforce that? What happens if homeowners redevelop their single-family house into a duplex or fourplex and in good faith agree to live in one of the units for at least three years but find they cannot? Maybe they have a job transfer or get divorced or one dies unexpectedly or is forced to move to an assisted living center. In a supposedly free country, a government cannot force someone to live on a property for three years. Especially if they’re dead.
You can see where this is headed. That three-year requirement likely will be rendered unenforceable by the courts and then developers and speculators could move in and quickly transform single-family neighborhoods into denser duplexes and fourplexes.
We need more housing. Everybody agrees with that. But jamming duplexes and fourplexes into single-family neighborhoods is a poor way to do it.
Charles Crumpley is editor and publisher of the Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.