Over the past few weeks, UnderBuilt has closely followed the new zoning code changes impacting single-family neighborhoods in Los Angeles, tirelessly revising our systems to reflect the updates. Now that the dust has settled and we have a clearer picture of what these new zoning laws mean for realtors, developers, and homeowners, let’s take a deeper dive into what UnderBuilt CEO Shawn Peterson calls “the biggest code change that LA has seen in almost a decade.”

Your Future Hillside Home Just Got a Whole Lot Smaller

The R1 hillside took the biggest hit with its bonuses and many exemptions eliminated, and a reduction in its first slope band. With the Baseline Mansionization (BMO) and Baseline Hillside Ordinance (BHO) code amendments, the Department of City Planning sought to strike a balance between LA’s diverse single-family hillside homes and appropriately scaled development. We’ll let you decide if they succeeded.

Under the new zoning laws, designated R1 hillside areas saw a reduction from 50 to 45 percent in their first slope band. Not bad right? Unfortunately, what most don’t realize is that these changes go well beyond the apparent 5 percent loss to Residential Floor Area (RFA).

To put some numbers to this, imagine a 10,000-square-foot lot. Under the old zoning laws, this land (assuming it was relatively flat) could handle a 5,000-square-foot home. If the structure’s design met certain provisional guidelines it could qualify for a 20 percent bonus, allowing for an additional 1,000 square feet of build. That meant you were looking at a potential max building size of 6,000 square feet.

With the new zoning laws eliminating the 20 percent bonus, that 6,000-square-foot home on the same lot would be capped at 4,500 square feet. In other words, the home’s potential size was just reduced by 33 percent.

New Flatland Homes Get Redesigned One Pitch at a Time

Just like their hillside counterparts, the R1 flat zones in most of LA lost their bonuses and exemptions, and saw a lot size reduction from 50 to 45 percent. Take the typical LA infill lot of 7,500 square feet; previously that land could have accommodated a 3,750 square-foot home. With the 20 percent bonus, you were looking at a max building size of 4,500 square feet. Fast forward to today: With the new zoning laws in place, you’re confined to 3,375 square feet.

But that’s not all. Roof decks on future builds must be set back at least three feet from the minimum side yard, and driveways must be 25 percent the total width of the lot (or the width of the existing driveway). The changes also added protections against casting shadows on your neighbor’s property by implementing a mandatory 45-degree encroachment plane.

BMO/BHO Encroachment Plane Limit Zoning Code Amendment

This forces new homes to have pitched roofs on two story buildings (or anything else above 20 feet) down the length of side yards.

Even More Limitations…

RE 9, 15, 20, and 40 zones stayed relatively the same. Under the new zoning code revisions, the same slope band calculations apply as they did before, which means no misleading lot size reductions. Also sticking around is the 20 percent bonus, unless you meet certain green building guidelines, in which case the bonus is eliminated.

However, front garage exemptions were cut in half from 400 to 200 square feet, and the 250-square-foot exemption for covered porches, patios, and breezeways was eliminated entirely. The first 100 square feet of ceilings over 14 feet in height are now confusingly counted toward Residential Floor Area. And below grading quantities now count against your grading limitations within the site.

Size Does Matter in LA Real Estate

Back in 2008 when the Baseline Mansionization and Baseline Hillside Ordinances were first addressed, many felt the codes were too lenient in favor of “McMansions.” After years of intense anti-mansion crusading, these residents have succeeded in tightening building restrictions throughout single-family neighborhoods.

Whether these changes will help protect “the character-defining features of Los Angeles” as was the original initiative’s goal or hinder the future progress of LA’s real estate market remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure, UnderBuilt is here for you. Now that our property reports are fully updated to incorporate all 18 of the new R1 Variation Zones, we can help you find the most you can build on a home—whichever zoning codes or restrictions it might fall under.