New state rules have made it easier for California homeowners to add accessory dwelling units (otherwise known as back houses or granny flats) to their properties. But many interested homeowners don’t know where to start. Local prefab company Cover has built a new tool that tells LA homeowners what, exactly, they can build in their backyards.
According to Cover CEO Alexis Rivas, the new tool is designed to get homeowners over the first few hurdles for adding an ADU, which otherwise might require hiring an architect to navigate local zoning regulations and property laws.
“We’ve taken the zoning logic and translated it into software for every parcel in LA,” says Rivas.
After homeowners input an address and answer a few questions about how the unit would be used, the tool crunches a wealth of city data and lets users know what, where, and how big they can build. After that, should homeowners want to start the process of buying one of Cover’s prefab units, users pay a $250 fee to begin the consultation, which includes 50 to 100 questions and a site visit.
Cover started production on its modern prefab studios last year, with its first unit installed locally in October. The 320 square feet studio pictured here cost $110,000, including construction of the foundation, although it doesn’t have a kitchen or bathroom.
Since Cover’s designs use computer algorithms to draw up a floor plan customized to the size of the lot, property details (like slope and tree locations), and local zoning codes, it makes sense that the company would want to build a tool that collects this preliminary data from potential customers. But even if users don’t ultimately end up buying a Cover unit, it gets them thinking about the possibilities, says Rivas.
What’s most interesting in light of the city’s housing shortage is how quickly Cover is able to deliver and install new, customized ADUs. Rivas says Angelenos who order their units today could expect to see them completed in a little over six months.
Prefabricating the unit in Cover’s Gardena factory only takes about three months. Add onto that three to four months of permitting and approvals—arguably the more onerous part of the process at the moment. That’s still likely faster than designing, permitting, and building a freestanding unit from the ground up. Plus in a city that’s experiencing a skilled labor shortage, this frees up construction workers to build larger projects.
Right now the tool doesn’t give homeowners more detailed information about what specific zoning requirements are restricting the size or use of their proposed ADU, but that’s a function Rivas hopes to add, along with advocacy information for how to get involved to change local policies.
“This could be an even faster solution,” he says. “We’d love to work on and streamline that process.”
With a housing crisis that’s so widespread it makes any solutions seem daunting, Cover’s tool ultimately puts the power to help in the hands of people who can afford to take action right away. This was one of the reasons Cover’s launch event was attended by California State Senator Bob Wieckowski, who has championed the state bills relaxing regulations for ADU construction.
“These units are an important part of the overall solution to our crisis because they provide opportunities for people of all ages to stay in their communities rather than move away from their family, friends, work or school,” Wieckowski said in a statement.