Is it illegal to live in a garage?  Due to its booming real estate market, more and more Californian residents are looking for alternative living spaces. In areas like Salinas, a primarily working-class population is finding themselves priced out of housing by spillover from the Bay Area. When you are short on space, all the square footage of a former garage can start to look pretty tempting. However, laws about housing can be very strict, especially if you are renting out the space. Here’s what you need to know about living in a garage in the state of California.

Pay Attention to the State of the Garage

Before going further into the legality of living in a garage, it is important to figure out what category your garage fits into. California law technically defines a garage that has been converted into a living unit as just an accessory dwelling unit. If a garage has been renovated to become an extra room in a house or a secondary dwelling unit similar to a guest house, it is a legal living unit.

However, your typical garage is just legally seen as an unfinished space similar to a shed. This type of unfinished garage space is not typically a legal unit for living in. Particularly, if it still has a car parked in it. Most laws prohibit people from living in an unfinished space due to safety concerns. You or the owner of the unfinished space may face fines. Additionally, eviction for using this type of garage as a living area is a possibility.

Discover What Statewide Legislation Has to Say About Garage Living

Due to the housing crisis, California now allows homeowners to convert their garages to a living space. Living in a garage in California is only legal if the garage has been converted to a habitable space through the proper channels. Letting guest sleep in an unconverted space for a night can be a big enough violation to result in fines. Renovating the garage without the proper permits may not count as a legal residence either. There are very specific requirements for any garage to be a legally appropriate living space.

Individual municipalities may have even more specific laws. Garages in the state need to meet these basic requirements to count as a habitable space.

  • Natural ventilation that is at least 1/20 the size of the floor space or 5 square feet at a minimum.
  • Sleeping areas need a window that is no more than 44 inches off the ground.  Also, has an opening of at least 5.7 square feet.
  • Ceilings need to be at least 7 feet and 6 inches in height.
  • Heating that keeps rooms at a temperature at 70 degrees for at least 3 feet above the floor.
  • Rooms must have natural light that is at least 10 percent the size of the square footage.
  • A room used for sleeping cannot have a garage open into the room.
  • All rooms need a smoke detection device installed.
  • The room requires at least one wall controlled light switch.
  • Electrical wall outlets need spacing to ensure that no part of the floor is more than 6 feet away from an outlet.
  • The room cannot have a gas water heater in it if it is a sleeping space.

See Whether Garage Conversions Are Permitted in Your City

California may have eased up their requirements on living spaces.  However, they still give individual cities the opportunity to create their own laws. Some municipalities might not let you rent out or live in any space that was once a garage, regardless of how many changes have been made to the garage. Because some cities are so strict about converting garages, you will need to check with your local housing, permits, and building departments to see whether or not you can turn a garage into a living space.

The first step after learning you can turn a garage into a living space will be getting plans drawn up that are entirely up to code. Some towns may require you to build another garage or set up other off-street parking opportunities. You typically need to get renovation plans approved by the city, get a building permit to carry out the renovation, and potentially register the new unit with your town’s housing authorities.

Learn How to Create a Garage Living Space That Meets Rental Regulations

Keep in mind that the laws guiding whether or not a person can live in a garage are also subject to general laws about renting spaces to tenants. In addition to meeting all the state and city codes for building, safety, and housing standards, landlords must ensure that any unit they rent out has:

  • Heating
  • Hot and cold water with working plumbing
  • Electricity
  • No pests or mold
  • Intact doors, windows, and roofs that resist weather
  • A sewage disposal system
  • Standard safety features like locks
  • A lack of obvious hazards

Because California laws about landlord and rental responsibilities are so complex, it is a good idea to get professional help. You may want to speak to a lawyer or a property management company to get advice about renting out a garage to tenants. Making sure everything is legal and up to code before you start renting the property will help to avoid serious hassles later on.

Coast & Valley Properties is a full-service property management company serving the entire Monterey County providing unparalleled service of diverse rental properties, as well as homeowner association management.