San Jose Considers Amnesty for Illegal Backyard Cottages

San Jose residents who may have cut legal corners to build backyard cottages may soon have a way to bring them up to code.

In March 2017, the City Council flagged the creation of an amnesty program for un-permitted accessory dwelling units—often referred to as granny flats or backyard cottages—as a policy priority. On Tuesday afternoon, the 11-member council is slated to approve the program that could launch later this month.

“An ADU amnesty program will provide a viable pathway for residents to make their existing un-permitted ADUs safer while expanding the legal housing stock in San Jose,” Planning, Building and Code Enforcement Director Rosalynn Hughey said. “The program design provides customers an affordable and efficient path to legalize un-permitted ADU units and also ensures the safety of the unit, property and its inhabitants.”

San Jose residents looking to take part in the program will also get a financial boost from a recently passed state law. SB 13, which was authored by state Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) and went into effect on Jan. 1, waives impact fees for people constructing a backyard home that’s less than 750 square feet in size.

Hughey said the law will help residents with “significant cost savings.” On top of that, officials will consider waiving un-permitted construction penalties and permit fees.

Homeowners who plan on renting out their backyard cottage may also qualify for a financial hardship exemption. San Jose currently charges a $200.85-a-year business tax for anyone renting out one to two units of residential property. That fee, however, can be waived if the property owner falls below a certain low-income threshold.

Based on the current fees set by the city, up to $5,862 in plan review and permitting costs could be waived per backyard home. City officials expect 50 amnesty applications by the end of this fiscal year, June 30, and about 100 in fiscal year 2020-21. With those numbers, San Jose could lose out on an estimated $293,000 and $586,200, respectively, and would need to identify an alternative funding source to make up for the loss.

The council meets at 1:30 pm Tuesday at City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St. in San Jose. Click here to read the entire agenda. 


  1. > San Jose Considers Amnesty for Illegal Backyard Cottages

    Why have any laws at all?

    Amnesty for illegal backyard cottages.

    Amnesty for late library books,

    Amnesty for car break-ins, but only for loot less than $950.

    Amnesty for camping on public property.

    Amnesty for illegal aliens.

    Amnesty for “non-violent crimes”.

    Amnesty for illegal voting.

    • My thoughts exactly…amnesty means there a group of people who did it right and paid the price. How about refunds for those folks who paid for the permits and inspections.

  2. don’t be fooled by this…

    unless you are masochistic and enjoy being tricked.

    being a landlord is difficult, having your tenant in your backyard is more so. in five years when enough law foundation social justice lawyers, activitistas, and metro reporters dig up a sob story or two, our city leaders are going to come down on your head and expropriate your backyard.

    don’t say you were not warned.

  3. How will the City “keep track” of all of the ADUs?

    How much money is going to be budgeted for this program?

    What about using “Tuff-sheds” with windows and “Porta-potties?”

    A lot of money could be made by property owners. SJSU students take heed!

    You could take showers at the YMCA and eat burritos at Mi Pueblo.

    Works for me.

    David S. Wall

    • and the camels nose is in the tent

      like I said, dont fall for this trick, once you put this up in your backyard, everyone gets a say…

  4. i believe the city passed a rule that said if you rent out an ADU or a room in your house, you must get a business licence. Now if you get a business licence does that make you an business, as in a commercial for-profit venture?
    Hold that thought.
    There are salacious forces at work in this state, right now, that are trying to wedge their weaselly little fingers into the Prop 13 “money-pit.” they are going to start off by saying that homeowners will be exempt – so you home owners can relax. they are just going after the commercial business’

    OK – – maybe?.

    If you hold a business licence as a profit making property owner – – technically you might be branded a “commercial” enterprise and be subject to taxes as such. there goes your Prop 13 protections – sucker.

    some may think this is far fetched – – – but knowing our money hungry politicians always seeking lucre to fill their swelling pension deficits – – – would you put this past them?

    • this is just one thread they will pull on the sweater…

      do not trust the city council, do not trust the state assembly, do not trust the CA supreme court

      you think we live under the constitution, talk to anyone in the offices and they will burst out in laughter

      watch out when renters become the voting majority, the damn will break

        • step one vacancy control, ie rent control between vacancies
          step two income, employment, credit based screening made illegal
          step three rent roll backs, ie rent matched to income of most vulernable applicant
          step four landlord initiated eviction made illegal
          step five forced eviction of old rich people to allow vulnerable kids into better school systems

          there is no political force in san jose that can resist this as it is consistent with the dominate ideology of the area. so do not build a granny unit in your back yard, buy a house in Pocatello ID and rent it out instead.

  5. I’m going to try to write this and not laugh (in disgust)…. I agree. Why have any codes at all? After all, codes are just for safety. You know….like fire.

    Councilwoman Esparza’s concern wasn’t codes. Her concern was whether ICE was permitted …… well, you can fill in the rest. SMH

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