How to legalize your illegal guest house or garage conversion in Los Angeles (and Southern California)

“When you get An Order to Comply or Substandard Order – Learn how to save yourself from possible fines and relocation fees and your property from being restored to its original purpose or being demolished”

In Southern California, it's hard to go three blocks without seeing cars parked in front of garages converted into living quarters or offices.  If you look in the backyards, you will often see guest houses.  Unfortunately for property owners who converted or built these units without permits, this can lead to some huge bills if the owners are cited – and that is happening with ever-increasing frequency.

Many homeowners did not do the work or even know unpermitted construction existed until they were cited by their respective Departments of Building & Safety or Public Works.  Once discovered, every homeowner I've ever talked to wants to legalize their illegal units, especially when faced with the bill to restore the structure to its original condition (say, as a garage).  Most homeowners seem to think that for $500, a structure can be restored.  Think AGAIN; and try $2,500 to $5,000, depending on how the illegal structure was configured and what's in it.

The biggest issue I've seen for most homeowners with an unpermitted guest house or garage conversion is the possibility of losing space they consider part of their home.  This could simply be an office or playroom, or it could be living facilities for relatives.  Often times the homeowner is renting out the space, and they are faced with (1) loss of income, (2) move-out fees to the tenant, fines and penalties to the city the structure is in, and (3) costs to legalize, restore, or demolish the offending unit.  

In order to try and keep the unpermitted unit, a great deal of “due diligence” must be performed.  Certain laws may or may not apply to protect the homeowner in regard to the existing unpermitted construction and use(s). All zoning, parking, setback, height and lot size requirements must be met. In addition, the property might be subject to special conditions that limit the amount of change that can be legally made.

Do You Have an Unpermitted Guest House or Garage Conversion?

These days, it's usually cheaper to convert a garage or add a guest house, than it is to try and put an addition on one's house.  This is especially true in the short run if it's done covertly – without being built to code and without being legal – securing the permits before construction begins.  However, when done legally, the benefits are varied and significant.  Here are just a few of the uses I am familiar with:

  • Art Studio
  • Game room
  • Guest room
  • Gym
  • Home based business
  • Media room
  • Multipurpose room
  • Music studio
  • Office
  • Playroom
  • Study room for teens
  • Workshop space

From having extra optimized storage space, to providing an office in the home, to being able to accommodate family members and guests, an additional legal unit can have a significant increase in your property value.

The 6 Major Steps to take for Illegal or Unpermitted Garage Conversions/Guest House Additions

Given that 99.9% of the people who visit my website are seeking information on illegal units, I'll confine my remarks to them.  If you are part of the 0.1% who are taking proactive measures, just give me a call and I'll be happy to provide you with further information on how to the right way to legally add on to your home.

The starting point of this discussion is to define a Guest House and also a Garage.  For illustration purposes, I'm going to use definitions offered up by the City of Los Angeles Municipal Code:

Guest House: A dwelling containing not more than five guest rooms or suites of rooms, but with no kitchen facilities.

Garage, private: An accessory building or portion of a main building designed or used for parking or storage of motor vehicles of the occupants of a residential use.  

The first thing you should note is that a guest house does not allow for a kitchen.  Neither does a garage, at least not without a permit.

With that little background in mind, here are the 6 major steps you need to address if you have an unpermitted Garage Conversion or Guest House.

1.     Verify all the possible legal options you have to legalize your converted or added garage. This will include, but not necessarily be limited to, the building codes, zoning and planning regulations regarding to your property, its legal profile, setbacks, parking, etc.  You'll also want to do a thorough analysis and research about the characteristics, potentials and limitations of your property.

2.     You will need some type of designs and plans drawn, so go out and interview some draftspeople or architects.  He/she will work with you on the type of conversion you want, based partially on what you have already constructed, and what may be necessary/allowed on your property.

3.     When the first architectural renderings are done, go to the appropriate department(s) for your city planners to show them your initial sketches so you can have necessary feedback about your intended legal conversion, as well as any changes or corrections required.

4.     If and when the initial plans are approved by your city/county, make yourself an estimate or ask a contractor(s) for estimates for the construction. Then, after deciding which way to go and to take the necessary action steps and precautions, follow all the legal steps and procedures from your City and County to get the garage conversion/ guest house plans approved. The time length of this whole process varies greatly from city to city (and county) and will involve repeated visits to the city planners in order to submit the architectural plans and get all the clearances from the different departments
necessary for the final approval.

5.     After the plans are approved and you get the requisite building permit(s) for the conversion, you're ready to do or have any further construction work performed.  Please note that the city gives you a definite time frame to start the work, otherwise a new approval process and permits may be necessary.

6.     In addition, once cited for illegal construction, all Southern California cities pose firm deadlines for completion on the work, before some heavy-duty fines and penalties kick in.

I have relied on Andy Baker for legal advice, mostly on real estate matters. He returns phone calls promptly, which can't be said about very many lawyers!   I have referred friends to Andy who have also been very happy with his services. I highly recommend him.

- Lynn B. Feldman, Attorney and Law Professor, Las Vega, NV

Before doing the conversion, be wary of many possible pitfalls, including, but not limited to legal, technical, economical and aesthetic problems, both potential and actual. No matter how proficient you are, it's always a good idea to ask for consultation and help in any, and preferably all of these fields if you feel you may not be able to accomplish a specific required task in the process of a garage conversion/guest house addition. By doing that, you may invest some extra money upfront, but this investment will pay off in spades, by less stress, less aggravation, faster processing, and with the satisfaction of having the work done right the first time.  

Construction prices and estimates for conversion

If you don't know the price of a garage conversion/guest house addition, it can be somewhat challenging. Prices vary from city to city and suburb to suburb - from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the case. It will depend on a lot of factors: the intended use, the quality of finishing and details, who is going to do the service (contractor, handyman, or “do-it-yourself” homeowner), local legal taxes and fees, etc.

If you decide to outsource the services, this kind of job is often better to be done by a licensed contractor, rather than a handyman, due to many technical, warranty and legal aspects.

In regard to the evaluation and estimates for garage conversions and guest house additions, I suggest the homeowner seek 3 bids from reputable contractors familiar with this specific type of construction.  Ask them for a detailed and itemized list of all construction items and work, with a breakdown of time and material expenses related to the job. This way the costs of the job can become more transparent and you can also compare prices/services in order to shop for a better choice.

It's a LEGAL Issue. 

Don't forget that in addition to the steps that it takes to get the permits (if they can be gotten) to legalize your illegal structure(s), you've still got to deal with your city or county if you have received an Order/Notice to Comply.  So first and foremost remember – it's a legal issue you're dealing with, and if not addressed in a timely manner, the effects can be disastrous:

  • Fines and penalties of over $1,000
  • Criminal charges brought
  • JAIL time

That's right – the prospect of jail may loom in your future.  It WILL loom is you don't properly and timely respond to the city demands.  This is no joke, folks. 

Here's what you need to be concerned with from a legal perspective:

Complying with an Order/Notice to Comply

Don't forget that while you're trying to legalize your property, the clock is ticking.  For more information on how to deal with an Order/Notice to Comply, please go to my Home Page.

After reading this, if you feel you need or want more help or expertise, please call me for your FREE telephone consultation where I will personally:

  •     Go over your facts, ask you questions, and review the papers you bring with you
  •     Explain your legal rights and your obligations
  •     Answer all of your questions
  •     Discuss my services with you
  •     Provide you with information to empower you
  •     And much, much more

Your conversation with me will last about 25 minutes, depending on the complexity of your case.  It can save thousands of dollars, plus substantial time and aggravation. It's at least a $160.00 value, yet the consultation is 100% free, without obligation

After that, both you and I will know how to best tackle your problem.  I have several cost-effective ways to proceed, so that you get your problem addressed in a timely fashion and at a reasonable price.

Call me, Andy Baker, for a free,
25 minute Code Clarifying Call

Where we meet on the phone, look at your Notice to Comply, Substandard Order, or A Notice and Order of Abatement and clarify:

1. What your notice means

2. What they claim is illegal about your home, guest house, garage or rental unit(s)

3. What they want you to do about it

4. How much time you have to cooperate

5. What will happen if you don't

6. And the best options for you to comply and legalize

I'll answer all your questions and when we're done, if you want, I can show you a couple of ways I can help.

By the end of the call, you'll:

1. Know what the truth is

2. Feel more relaxed about your situation

3. And have a much better idea of the legal and practical next steps you need to take to resolve your problem.

After working on over 500 code compliance cases in the past 10 years in cities and counties all over Southern California, I'm familiar with how the system works, what the codes actually mean in legal and practical terms, and how they are interpreted by different building inspectors, housing inspectors, city attorneys, district attorneys, and judges.

This is important for you because now that you've been cited, your situation is more of a Legal issue than a construction issue.

Something most architects, contractors and builders don't understand because they don't have to deal with all the nit-picky legal part of this every day.

Put all this together and it means your Free Clarifying Call is a good place to start.

If you'd like one…

Here are two ways to schedule your
Free, 25-Minute REAP Reality Check Call

1. Call me, Andy Baker, now at 818-620-6023

I answer my own phone. If you get the voicemail. just leave your name and number and the city your property is located along with a brief message of what you're calling about, a good time to call you back and I will call you back.

2. You can also reach me by email at: [email protected]

In your email please tell me your name, a little bit about your situation and I will write back to you.

Here's what a few clients say about my help:

"After receiving a letter from the Housing Dept, I was in a panic! i envisioned all the worst scenarios. Andy quickly calmed me down and together we worked out solutions. He was so knowledgeable and calm, he was just a pleasure to work with. My experience with Andy was excellent."

- Ray B., Duplex Property Owner, Los Angeles, CA (lat name withheld by request)

“I have hired Andy Baker twice to help me concerning my Accessory Building. I am happy to report that I now have a legal ADU [Accessory Dwelling Unit] because of Andy's help! Very pleased. Will use his services again for the lease agreement now that the legal process is completed. I highly recommend his services. His information has been completely accurate and helpful to me.”

- Pam Teeguarden, Homeowner, Cheviot Hills, CA

"Andy provided detailed and personalized attention to our legal matter. With his legal advice and opinion he was able to turn our city government into retracting their initial order to demolish an accessory structure on our property.. We had gotten nowhere in 6 months. It only took Mr. Baker 2 weeks to get our city to respond. We commend Mr. Baker for his professionalism and look forward to recommending him to other residents in our city."

- Sandra Gonzalez, Homeowner, Paramount, CA

“Andy provided me with all the legal information to get my guest house in full compliance with Building & Safety [and] legal issues will be avoided in the future. He also helped me evict a problem tenant from a guest house. He handed the distribution of relocation assistance funds through his escrow account to the tenant. He also handled the LA Housing Department. He kept me informed of my legal rights and accomplished all of his fiduciary duties with the highest level of care throughout the process. Andy knows the eviction laws and the building codes inside and out. I highly recommend Andy Baker and his services.”

- Nicholas Martinez, Homeowner, Van Nuys, CA

I look forward to helping you get some clarity and peace of mind about your situation,

Andy Baker
22287 Mulholland Hwy, No. 131
Calabasas, CA 91302
Tel. (818) 620-6023
[email protected]

I help clients solve sticky code issues, arrange successful transactions, avoid costly
mistakes, and resolve legal disputes.

Law Offices of Andrew S. Baker, APLC Is Here for You

At the Law Offices of Andrew S. Baker, APLC, we focus on your concerns by listening to you as we help you navigate the legal system.

Contact Us Today

The Law Offices of Andrew S. Baker, APLC is committed to answering your questions about Illegal Conversions for Houses and Apartments, Construction, Land Use, and Real Estate law issues in California.

We offer a free consultation and we'll gladly discuss your case with you at your convenience. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.