Like many families, you find yourself caught between a rock and hard place in the California housing crisis. Your loved ones need somewhere to stay, but there’s not enough room in your house as-is and they can’t afford to go somewhere else either.

You need a solution, and you need one fast.

ADUs are the perfect affordable housing solution for families like yours, offering affordable housing customized to meet your needs. Better still, pre-approved ADU plans in San Jose allow you to expedite the approval process so that you can get started building a home that fits your whole family.

Thinking of building an ADU? Here’s why pre-approved plans may be the perfect fit.

What is an ADU?

First, you need a grasp on the basics.

An accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, is a secondary residence within a property with a primary structure already in place. You may have encountered them under several different names which reveal just how versatile ADUs are:

  • Accessory apartment
  • Accessory suite
  • Ancillary unit
  • Backyard cottage
  • Basement apartment
  • Garden cottage
  • Granny flat
  • In-law suite
  • Junior accessory dwelling unit
  • Laneway house
  • Multigenerational homes
  • Secondary unit
  • Tiny house

ADUs are about as versatile as the people who live in them. They can be a home for the extended family, a beginner home for a young couple, an independent space for kids returning from college, or a home for a relative who needs extra support.

There are four main types of ADUs, distinguished by their construction:

  1. Detached ADU
  2. Attached ADU
  3. Garage conversion
  4. Interior conversion

The most independent ADU is the detached ADU, which is a completely freestanding structure with its own foundations and utility hookups. An attached ADU shares one wall with the main structure but still has its own utilities and does not have an internal entrance.

An interior conversion is the most integrated with the main house. A basement apartment is a great example of this, but it’s not enough to put a bed in a room–the space has to be a fully functional independent living space with its own kitchen, living area, and bathroom.

The San Jose Housing Crisis

Forbes declared 2020 the Year of the ADU, and with so many families deciding to build them in California, it’s easy to understand why.

California’s economy is booming. As of 2018, the state had the fifth largest economy in the world. The housing market is also red-hot, sitting at the epicenter of the wealthiest, most progressive state in the union, but homelessness is surging.

That’s because not all incomes have surged to match housing prices, and with housing demand far outpacing supply. Those who don’t earn millions in Silicon Valley (or anywhere else, for that matter) find themselves with an untenable choice: commute hours between work and housing they can afford, try to save millions to buy a house, or leave the state altogether.

It’s even worse for seniors, who find themselves trapped in high rental rates and increasing fears of homelessness and isolation.

ADUs as an Affordable Housing Solution for Families

The problem is not the lack of land, but rather the fact that many affordable housing developments were blocked by neighborhoods and homeowners’ associations. Many cities know they need affordable housing but the areas around the proposed building site won’t allow the construction to begin.

This is where ADUs can save the day.

ADUs make use of land that’s already developed by expanding an existing living space. You essentially get two properties for the price of one. Families who may not have had space for their loved ones can create it. Young families who need a start can find housing they can afford.

That’s why San Jose is incentivizing ADU construction as a sustainable, affordable housing option that allows families to stay in the neighborhoods they love without paying more than they can afford.

San Jose’s Pre-Approved ADU Initiative

This is where San Jose’s pre-approved ADU initiative comes into play.

The problem for many homeowners was not the idea. If anything, ADUs were the solution they needed for years. The problem was trying to get started. For many, the permitting and approval process was so long and torturous that it simply wasn’t worth the trouble.

Not anymore.

What are Pre-Approved Plans?

Pre-approved ADU plans, referred to as the Master Plan Program in San Jose, are ADU plans that have already been proofed and stamped as acceptable by the City of San Jose.

Under the old system, homeowners had no choice but to start from scratch. You could build any ADU you wanted, but it didn’t necessarily mean you would be approved for a permit, and you may not know what could go wrong with the proposal until it was submitted. Then you had to begin the long back-and-forth of getting the plan approved.

And that’s assuming your homeowners’ association didn’t block you before you got that far.

Even if the plan went without a hitch, it could still take months to jump through all the hoops required to get the plan approved. If you had to make changes, there would be another round of back and forth with each new change, on top of the fees required to do it.

Now, with pre-approved plans, you’re guaranteed an expedited review process, with minimal fuss and few fees. Instead of fighting with the city to get an ADU approved, you can focus on building a home that supports the whole family.

Master Plan Program

This is the heart of the San Jose Master Plan Program.

The program is simple. It offers homeowners and vendors with master plans for building ADUs. The structural details have already been approved for the appropriate residential zones and can include configuration options. As long as you make changes within the provided parameters, the plan is still considered “pre-approved”.

This grants homeowners access to an express lane program that would expedite the permitting process. The idea is to make the ADU process more attractive for homeowners.

To be clear, you can’t just walk into the planning department and walk out in five minutes with a permit. Unfortunately, there are still site plans, engineering, title 24 calculations, and other considerations that must be completed for your suitable design to be approved.

The key with the master plan program is that homeowners can skip the fight involved in getting a permit for the plan itself. Instead, they can work with a company and know that the city will approve their project.

What the Plans Mean for San Jose

The beauty of this initiative is that companies are providing a library of pre-approved ADU plans, plans that homeowners already know have the stamp of the city. You’re all but certain to find the right plan for your family in those options.

This is great news for families looking to build ADUs, especially if you’re not quite sure what you want from an ADU, if you’re wary of the permitting process, or both. You can find a plan that works for your property and know that the city will give you expedited permitting.

In short, there are two critical benefits for families: less time and less money.

Less Time

Like so many families, you never seem to have enough time in the course of a day.

You’ve got your kids. You’ve got your pets. You’ve got your aging parents or relatives who need a place to stay.

Your family can’t afford to wait months for a solution–with the housing crisis taking such a dire toll on your living situation and your expenses, you need a solution that works, and you need it fast.

Now, instead of spending months wading through the permitting process, you can get a plan you know will work. That way, you can start building faster and get a property that serves your family’s needs.

Less Money

This is also a great money-saving option for families who know they want to build ADUs but don’t have the spare resources to design custom plans and fight with the city over minutiae (or the fees attached to the minutiae).

Pre-approved plans are a smarter option. You’ll know exactly what you’re signing up for, what it’s going to cost, and how to allocate your resources effectively. Instead of wasting money on fees while the plan goes old and gray in the permitting process, you can pay only the fees you need to build the ADU you want.

And when your family is already trying to keep your heads above water with the absurd cost of living in California, every added advantage is a big deal.

The Faster Avenue to a Home for the Whole Family

All of this means that you can focus on what matters most: your family.

At the heart of the issue, ADUs are all about families. When Councilwoman Magdalena Carrasco backed Mayor Sam Liccardo’s plan to expedite the building and permitting process, she recalled growing up with relatives who came from Mexico to stay with her parents while looking for work. ADUs were what allowed those relatives to live on her parents’ property.

Maybe your family situation doesn’t perfectly mirror Councilwoman Carrasco’s, but ADUs can still be a critical support structure for your family, whether you’re coming together to help a relative in crisis or helping a loved one find their footing.

One of the biggest reasons many families look into ADUs is to build a home for an elderly loved one. Maybe your loved one cannot afford to live alone, or maybe they need a bit more support even if they don’t need to be in a nursing home. An ADU grants them a degree of freedom and space while allowing the family to stay close at hand.

Another common reason for building ADUs is to support a special needs relative or child. Again, they can have the support of the family that they need to thrive, but they can still have space to live their own life, which is essential for so many people with special needs who crave the same independence their loved ones enjoy.

Using the ADU Master Plan

You know that your family needs a housing solution you can afford, something that brings you together rather than forcing relatives to live hours away from each other in the only available affordable housing. San Jose’s ADU Master Plan is the perfect solution, especially if you want to hit the ground running and start building as soon as possible.

Here’s a quick look at what the process will look like if you decide to use the ADU Master Plan.

The ADU Universal Checklist

Your first (and most important) resource is the ADU Universal Checklist. Print it, highlight it, keep it in your wallet, because it’s your go-to guide for everything you need to know to simplify the ADU process in San Jose.

Basically, it’s the tool that allows you to avoid frustrating last-minute adjustments to your design and any potential surprises that would slow down the process.

It starts by outlining properties that qualify. Properties must be in residential zones R-1, R-2, R-M, or PD, or must have one of the following General Plan designations:

  • Residential neighborhood, mixed-use neighborhood, or mixed-use commercial
  • Urban residential, transit residential, or rural residential
  • Downtown or urban village

If you answered yes to the above, your single-family property is allowed one ADU and one JADU. Duplex or multi-family housing is allowed two detached ADUs, though duplexes may also allow one attached ADU.

The checklist further spells out zoning requirements that might disqualify your property from building an ADU, as well as further information about where ADUs can be built on your property based on your property type, the size of the lot, setbacks, etc.

If you and your builder don’t know ADUs and need additional guidance on the Development Standards outlined in the checklist, the City of San Jose offers free consultations with a city planner to understand the requirements your plan must meet in order to comply with the building code. You should bring:

  • Your copy of the ADU Universal Checklist with questions answered
  • A rough site plan showing:
    • Location of the proposed ADU
    • Site boundaries and dimensions
    • Location of the primary dwelling unit

To meet with a planner, visit the Permit Center on the first floor of City Hall. No appointment is required, but know that it’s a very high level chat.

Plan Submittal Requirements

The ADU Universal Checklist, your builder and your City Hall planner should help you clear any remaining questions and hurdles. If your questions are answered, you know what you need, and you know that your property qualifies for an ADU, you’re ready to begin developing building plans.

Up to this point, you could show the city planner a rough plan or even a rough sketch. That will no longer suffice.

Now, you’re going to need a full architectural building plan addressing all technical issues attached to the building process. Unless you happen to be a builder or an architect, most homeowners should plan on hiring an experienced designer and builder to help with this process if you haven’t already hired one to come with you to talk to the city planner.

When you come back to City Hall to submit your proposal, you should plan on walking through the door to submit a complete plan. City Hall will not accept or process incomplete or inaccurate plans and will instruct you to come back with a complete set of plans. Bulletin 211 (ADU Building Plan Requirements) spells out what you need to ensure your plans are complete.

Plan Review Process

At this point, you’re ready to submit the plan for permitting and approval by the city, as well as other clearance issues required to get the green light for your plan.

Unlike your consultation with a city planner, you must have an appointment to submit building plans. This bulletin provides further instructions on who can and cannot submit building plans.

Working with a company with ADU Master Plans will qualify you for expedited processing, assuming there are no additional issues with the plans because of your property. You can also come in on ADU Tuesdays for expedited ADU services.

For a complete submittal package, you will need:

Complete Master Plan submittal packages must include:

  • Plans, architectural information, elevations, sections, and details
  • Structural information
  • Structural calculations
  • Title 24 energy documents (when applicable)
  • Truss plans and applications (when applicable)
  • Geotechnical investigation report (when applicable)
  • Statement providing an indication of fire hydrants and sprinklers
  • Code minimum soil valuation

You may include a standard site plan as reference, but this is an optional part of the package.

Plans Without Changes

If your plan is approved without changes, you’re ready to move to the next step.

Happily, this is simple. Just call 408-663-6530 to schedule an appointment to proceed.

Plans With Changes

If your plan requires changes, this will get a bit messier. If the changes are minor, this won’t slow you down too much.

Minor changes are limited to one load-bearing wall or no more than 25% change of the Master Plan configuration. But this is extremely subjective and will certainly create some confusion if not managed properly by a specialist.

If your plan changes fall under those categories, you can call 408-793-5302 when ready to proceed. If your changes do not qualify as minor, you may be required to submit them to the regular Plan Review Service, rather than using expedited Master Plan processing.

Also, keep in mind that if the building code changes while your ADU is processing, you will be required to make the appropriate updates to stay within the requirements of the new building code.


All fees must be paid in full before your plan can receive a permit from the City of San Jose. Unfortunately, the fees themselves are variable.

To figure out what your fees are, open the Building Fees page, click on the Building Fees Schedule Page, and click on the appropriate residential classification (single-family, duplex, multi-family, etc.) Use the addition/alteration table to calculate your fee.

Also, don’t forget that all public works clearance fees, park land fees, school fees, and all applicable taxes must be paid before the city can issue a permit.

Our Build Ready Plans

Among our available services are Build Ready ADU Plans, which offer complete building plans with elevation, interior design, and structural engineering. Basically, it’s an ADU plan that’s ready to hit the ground running–all you have to do is find the right plan for your property.

Better still, three of our plans are pre-approved by the San Jose Building Department, which means we can still qualify for expedited Master Plan processing and start building your ADU as soon as possible.

We also offer an easy process for homeowners to get started. It’s a three-step process:

  1. Project evaluation
  2. Design
  3. Build

At each stage, we spell out what costs you’ll face and the steps you can expect to follow.

Making the Right Choice for Your Family

In a time when families need housing solutions that offer real support, pre-approved ADU plans in San Jose are the best option to hit the ground running. You can dodge the headache of getting a plan approved and focus on what matters most: your family.

If you’re ready to invest in a solution that brings your family closer together, we’re the ADU experts that will make it happen. Our process is designed to reduce risk so that you know you’ll build an ADU that meets your needs.

Ready to start building? Let’s talk. Click here to get in touch with an ADU specialist today.