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Do in-law units help families or hurt cities?

October 26, 2003

Regarding "New Law on In-Laws," Oct. 12: I found some of the residents' views expressed in the article very judgmental, saying homeowners add second units for the extra income.

In my experience as a support group leader for families caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease, most caregivers simply want to avoid placing their loved ones in nursing homes and will go to great expense and inconvenience to find alternatives.

Not everyone has a spare bedroom. A second unit on a single-family home can often delay premature placement and, considering the $40,000 to $50,000 per year cost of a nursing home, we should all welcome that choice. After all, when a nursing home resident spends down his or her assets, the next step is Medi-Cal. And we all pay for that choice.

Jean Ruecker

Simi Valley


There are real-world consequences in permitting "over-the-counter" approval of second units in single-family neighborhoods.

I have been a practicing municipal planner and city manager in Southern California for 25 years, with firsthand experience in community planning and second units. We all wish it were as simple as having the mother-in-law living in the backhouse on your property.

The majority of cities incorporate to control their planning and development. Citizens want direct control over the quality of life in their neighborhoods. This includes issues of residential overcrowding, increased traffic, insufficient parks, overcrowding in public schools and impacts on other city services. There are also design issues with second units.

The new second-unit law imposed on local cities by Sacramento ignores these issues and common-sense planning. It also eliminates even a courtesy notice to the neighbors.

Second-unit advocates argue that residents need not fear these problems, since owners will move in relatives or, at worst, carefully manage their tenants.

What I have observed is that once the second unit is constructed, owners invariably move out of their main house. The main house and the second unit become income property, with an absentee landlord.

Absentee landlords take less pride in their units, encouraged in part by depreciation rules. Neighbors should be provided notice of the construction, on-site parking needs should be met, good design standards followed and minimum maintenance standards required.

Millions of Californian's do not purchase single-family homes only to see their neighborhoods turn into rental duplex zones.

Kenneth C. Farfsing

City manager, Signal Hill

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