SB 9 on Vacant Lots

April 20, 2022

How does SB 9 work on vacant lots?

California's Senate Bill 9 is groundbreaking legislation that allows homeowners more freedom than ever before to develop their property and help solve the housing crisis. And while the text of the state law is very through, there are still some questions left unanswered.

In the latest installment of our SB 9 Q&A series, we will explore how the law applies to vacant lots. Read on to learn all about SB 9 development on empty lots.

SB 9 Q&A: Vacant Lots

Q: Is SB 9 allowed on vacant lots?

A: In most cities, yes. In some cities, SB 9 urban lot splits are not allowed on vacant lots.

If you own a piece of land in an urbanized area that's zoned single-family residential, you may be considering pursuing SB 9. But what if that land is vacant?

The state law doesn’t explicitly say anything about SB 9 eligibility on empty lots. As such, some local jurisdictions have decided to forbid lot splits on vacant lots.

As far as we know, no cities are prohibiting the two-unit or “duplex” provision of the law on vacant lots. So even if your city won’t let you split your vacant lot, you can still build up to two primary units (plus any ADUs or JADUs allowed by local ordinance).

Q: Which cities forbid SB 9 lot splits on vacant lots?

A: Cities prohibiting SB 9 lot splits on vacant lots include Rancho Palos Verdes, Santa Monica, and San José.

These are the three cities that we know currently do not allow SB 9 urban lot splits on vacant lots. However, there may be more cities with similar rules.

Q: Why don’t certain cities allow SB 9 lot splits on vacant lots?

A: It complicates the owner-occupancy requirement for lot splits.

Senate Bill 9 dictates that lot split applicants must sign an affidavit agreeing to live in one of the units as their primary residence for at least three years following the split.

Certain municipalities argue there’s no way to allow lot spits on vacant parcels without violating the owner occupancy requirement. If there are no units on the lot at the time it is split, then the applicant can’t live on the property.

However, most cities are allowing lot splits on vacant lots. In this case, the owner occupancy period begins once a unit is finished and livable.

To learn more about SB 9 occupancy requirements, read this blog post.

Q: How can I find out if my city allows SB 9 lot splits on vacant lots?

A: Check your city’s SB 9 City Guide or contact your local planning department

Homestead’s SB 9 City Guides project offers a thorough and easy-to-understand analysis of each city’s local SB 9 rules.

If your city restricts lot splits on vacant lots, it will be noted in the “Where Can I Build?” section of the guide.

If there’s not a SB 9 City Guide available for your area yet, contact your local planning department and ask about their policy on vacant land.

And keep checking back with SB 9 City Guides! We’re adding more cities all the time, so if yours isn’t included yet, it will be soon. You can submit this form to request a guide for your city.

Q: My city's SB 9 ordinance states that any new primary unit must match the architectural design of the existing house on the lot. How does that requirement apply to SB 9 projects on vacant parcels?

A: The new unit may need to match the style of other houses on the block, and multiple units on the same parcel will need to match each other.

Some city councils include design requirements in their SB 9 ordinances to ensure "aesthetic continuity" in the neighborhood. In other words, they want any new houses to fit in with the ones that are already there. Many municipalities--including Anaheim, Santa Barbara, Temple City, and Woodland--require that all new SB 9 units match the existing house on a parcel. In Yorba Linda, new units must match the primary dwelling as well as the neighborhood in general.

Summary

For the time being, it’s up to local governments to decide whether or not they’ll allow SB 9 urban lot splits on vacant parcels. However, this is subject to change.

The state may at some point pass further laws to clarify the bill and tie up loopholes. If this happens, perhaps they’ll clarify lot split eligibility for vacant lots.

To stay up-to-date with the latest news on Senate Bill 9, follow the California SB 9 News Twitter account and subscribe to our SB 9 Newsletter.

Learn More

No matter what your dream SB 9 project entails, Homestead can help you determine your lot's eligibility and take the first steps. It is Homestead's mission to help property owners across California add affordable housing, and the first step is through education. Visit Homestead's SB 9 Library to read more helpful articles about Senate Bill 9.

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