Granny flats, or second, small homes or apartments built on the same lot as existing single-family homes, are an important piece of the housing puzzle. If used as intended, they will not have an extreme negative impact on San Diego’s neighborhoods.

CommentaryMy son and his wife live in a granny flat. Granny flats are great for young couples, families and individuals getting started, since they’re often more affordable than other homes and apartments. My other son has a granny flat in which my husband and I may live when we’re older – another one of the intended purposes of these accessory units. These uses are widely cited as the reasons granny flats should be encouraged. The goal is to help San Diego residents find affordable housing.

But while the city’s new policy, meant to streamline the process, ease regulations and get more granny flats built in San Diego, is the right move for many neighborhoods, it’s not a good fit for the College Area. I’m not opposed to granny flats in the College Area, but communities like ours that are already impacted by extra density in single-family neighborhoods need some variation in the new policy for protection.

Many “mini dorm” landlords here are pushing the limits to maximize the number of allowable bedrooms. Their de facto college dormitories have six bedrooms and a den or bonus room, which, in the College Area, will be used as a bedroom for a student. This creates seven-bedroom homes on lots limited to six bedrooms.

A real concern is that such a six- or seven-bedroom house, if one story, could add a 1,200 square-foot, five-bedroom companion unit as a second story under the new streamlined granny flat policy, potentially creating a massive 11-12 bedroom home on a single-family property. That may sound absurd to someone from another part of the city, but the College Area already has a number of nine- and 10-bedroom houses in its single-family zones.

In one part of the College Area, there are, for example, two mini-dorms next door to each other, and another immediately across the street. Each has seven bedrooms on a mini-dorm-dense street. Should each of those add a second-story companion unit, there could be up to 36 bedrooms clustered near one another.


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Add to this the likelihood that at least some of those bedrooms will be shared, a common practice among cost-conscious young adults and students, and we could end up with 50 individuals living in one small area. Many of these tenants will have cars, but no additional parking spaces will be available since the city’s new granny flat ordinance requires no additional parking space if the unit is close to transit, which virtually all the College Area is.

The City Council must find some way to recognize that one size does not fit all in San Diego. Already impacted communities, such as the College Area, should not be further impacted by a granny flat ordinance that doesn’t take neighborhood differences into account.

Ann Cottrell lives in the College Area. Cottrell’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

    This article relates to: Growth and Housing, Housing, Opinion

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    6 comments
    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    When I landscaped my yard 20 years ago I expanded the driveway to allow for off street parking. 

    turns out that was the right decision as this ordinance is going to create parking problems here in Clairemont as the single family home community morphs into a duplex community

    Gina Von
    Gina Von

    They should mandate that the owner occupy one unit on these types of properties that would insure that they would not allow unacceptable behaviors that would impact the neighborhood. Shuttle services and shared cars for each building might help eliminate car ownership.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    Ms. Cotrell is absolutely right about the problems of a “one size fits all” policy.  Perhaps the most extreme situation in the city is the small community of Mission Beach, where over 75% of the properties are rentals, including multi-unit structures managed on behalf of out of area owners by local real estate and property management firms.


    Those of us who have been here for decades have seen a gradual transition.  The pattern used to be, rent weekly in the summer and to college students Sept-May.  In recent years more owners, whether they live on the property as my neighbors across the court do and rent the bottom of their duplex, or live elsewhere and depend on property managers to keep order, are renting weekly year-round and do quite well financially as you would imagine.  The older residents got used to both the old and new arrangements; in fact I’ve made friends with several weekly renters who returned each year.  Most renters respected the situation and kept the parties to a minimum, at least during the week.  


    *Note:  what I described above is simply unacceptable in many neighborhoods, but when you live in a resort area you have to realize privacy is an occasional thing.  Non-owner occupied properties are usually a problem compared to an owner living on site or next door, and the lots are so small here renters immediately see the potential problems and usually behave.


    Enter AirBnB and the idea of whole house rentals for less than a week.  Ask yourself this:  Why would a 20 something rent a house or apartment for a day or two?  That’s right, it’s party time and the person is paying a lot by the day so wants to maximize the party.  He normally won’t return to the same place next time so doesn’t care about burned bridges.  With the police force several hundred understaffed, unless there’s a murder or major fight, you aren’t going to get service on party complaints.


    I think each community should, within limits, design it’s own system for rental restrictions and, for heaven’s sake, let’s kill the rhetoric about poor owners desperately renting out a spare room to make ends meet.The motivation here is pure greed and perfectly legal, but the neighbors need to have a BIG say on the rules. 

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Bill Bradshaw If the neighbors are unwilling to adequately fund law enforcement, then I think you're right about greed being a motivation here.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann @Bill Bradshaw Huh?  As far as neighbors being "unwilling to fund law enforcement", how are we supposed to do this, by taking up a collection?  


    Now that you mention it, the amount of T.O.T. the city gets from weekly rentals is pretty significant, and would be a lot greater if they actually collected what the law requires, but like so many other aspects of city administration, it's pretty haphazard so a lot of rental owners are not paying.     

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    If the problem is parking, simply require permits for overnight street parking. Counting each 2-car garage and 2-car driveway as places where vehicles can be stored overnight, I suspect even the College Area has at least twice as much off-street space for cars as there are cars.