Californians for Homeownership, a nonprofit housing organization sponsored by the California Association of Realtors (C.A.R.), announced Thursday that it’s suing the city of Whittier, California, over its accessory dwelling unit (ADU) regulations.

Whittier’s local regulations currently require replacement covered parking if a garage is converted to an ADU, according to the lawsuit, which the nonprofit says is not in compliance with a state law designed to increase density in the housing-starved state.

“State law is simple: If you own a single-family home in California and your garage can be safely converted to housing, you are allowed to convert it,” Matthew Gelfand, the in-house litigator for the Californians for Homeownership nonprofit, said in a statement. “Whittier is one of a small number of cities that is refusing to comply with the state law.”

“These cities hope that they can get away with their illegal behavior because homeowners are ill-equipped to sue,” Gelfand added. “Our lawsuit sends Whittier and cities like it a clear message: No city is above the law.”

ADUs — or “in-law units” — are additional units built alongside single-family homes and often developed through the use of underutilized space like garages. The units can are also often used for family members or as an additional source of income.

Californians for Homeownership is a new organization with the goal of using legal tools to address the state’s housing crisis. The organization says California has a housing deficit of 2 million to 3.5 million homes, and it ranks 49th out of 50 states in the number of housing units per capita.

ADUs are one strategy being deployed to address that crisis, thanks to 2016 legislature that gave residents rights to develop ADUs and barred local governments from interfering with those state rights.

This is the first lawsuit filed by Californians for Homeownership, which says it previously worked with Merced and Vista to alter their ADU policies, got Modesto to rethink an unlawful ADU ordinance and convinced Rialto to abandon a plan to enact an illegal moratorium on ADU construction.

“We chose to sue Whittier because its conduct was among the most egregious we uncovered during our investigation,” Gelfand said. “We tried to convince the city to comply with the law, but after several months of discussion, Whittier City staff told us they would try their luck in court.”

The Whittier City Manager’s Office did not immediately return a request for comment. Whittier City Manager Jeff Collier spoke to the Whittier Daily News, however, and said, “the city can’t require parking for the new unit created by the garage conversion — but it can for the lost parking.”

Collier also cited two bills pending in the state legislature that would ban such a practice, as the reason it’s currently allowed by law.

Email Patrick Kearns

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