Won: California courts ruled that the Riddicks can build their ADU.

Jason and Elizabeth Riddick live in Malibu, California, with their three children. Elizabeth’s mother, Renee Sperling, is in her eighties and suffers from numerous ailments, including glaucoma, arthritis, asthma, and osteoporosis, and is immunocompromised. Renee wants nothing more than to age in place near her family and with her dog, while maintaining her privacy and, given her immunodeficiency, a medically necessary buffer from her grandchildren. 

The Riddicks weighed their options and were excited about their decision to build an accessory dwelling unit as an add-on to their home. A perfect solution for the Riddicks, ADUs, better known as “granny flats” or “in-law apartments,” are recognized as a valuable and essential component of California’s solution for the state’s housing shortage. In fact, state law establishes the right to build ADUs, and recent legislative reforms aim to foster their development by severely limiting local government restrictions. 

Despite the state law, the written support of the Riddicks’ HOA and all surrounding neighbors, and $40,000 spent on geologic surveys and other permit requirements, the Malibu Planning Commission denied their application.  

The Planning Commission claimed that while their modest ADU proposal complies with state law, it doesn’t comply with Malibu’s Local Coastal Program—the same commission whose staff told the Riddicks early in the process that their project is “like a posterchild for why the ADU law was created.”  

With free-of-charge representation from PLF, the Riddicks fought back in state courts to restore the right to use their property in a way that best serves their family.

The Los Angeles County Superior Court, where the lawsuit was filed, held that the City’s coastal policies do not prohibit homeowners from building ADUs that are attached to their primary residence. And by refusing to correctly process the permit, the City violated state law, which recognizes that property owners have a right to build ADUs. 

The City appealed to the California Court of Appeals, which agreed with the lower court. Finally, the City filed an appeal with the California Supreme Court, but the Court declined to review the case, cementing the lower court ruling in favor of the Riddicks’ right to build an ADU on their property.

Unfortunately, Malibu is not alone in opposing California’s new housing laws. PLF authored a report 2021, Still No Place to Live, detailing continued local resistance in California. 

What’s At Stake?

  • The way to make housing more affordable is to build more of it. A local government cannot defy state law to create unlawful barriers to housing production.
  • The government cannot impose arbitrary, discriminatory, or illegitimate building restrictions that interfere with the use and enjoyment of private property.

Case Timeline

May 10, 2022
November 18, 2021
Los Angeles County Superior Court