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In Reznitskiy v. County of Marin (2022) 79 Cal.App.5th 1016, the First District held that the Housing Accountability Act, Government Code Section 65589.5 (HAA), does not apply to a project consisting of one individual residential unit. In unpublished portions of the opinion not further discussed in this summary the Court also held that equitable estoppel did not apply and that substantial evidence supported the agency’s determination.

The HAA is a statute designed to increase the approval and construction of new housing. It provides a number of benefits to “housing development projects,” including prohibiting an agency from disapproving such a project on the basis of any standard that is not objective.

Here, Plaintiffs sought to build a single-family home (Project) in Marin County (County). While they initially proposed an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), the ADU was subsequently removed in response to comments from the County’s Community Development Agency, leaving only the house. Following an administrative decision on the Project, neighbors raised concerns, arguing that the home was too large for the area. The County’s planning commission agreed, and denied the Project. Plaintiffs administratively appealed that decision, arguing, among other things, that the HAA prevented disapproval on the basis offered. The County disagreed in their interpretation of the HAA, and upheld the denial. Plaintiffs sued the County, making the same argument, and the trial court upheld the County’s decision. Plaintiffs appealed.

The main issue in the published portion of the appeal was whether a single home constitutes a “housing development project” for purposes of the HAA. The HHA defines that term to mean a use consisting of any of the following: “Residential units only[,]” “Mixed-use developments consisting of residential and nonresidential uses with at least two-thirds of the square footage designated for residential use[,]” or “Transitional housing or supportive housing.” While there is little case law interpreting this definition, one prior case found the law applicable to a development of eight single-family homes.

The County argued that use of the term “units” suggested that more than one was required. Though the Court agreed, it nonetheless still found the issue to be ambiguous. As such, it examined legislative history and other interpretive aids, including Department of Housing and Community Development guidance, other statutes, failed legislative efforts, and subsequent legislative activity. While the Court found much of this to be unreliable or otherwise unpersuasive, it ultimately concluded that interpreting the law to only apply to projects consisting of more than one unit was the more reasonable approach. Plaintiffs argued that the HAA requires liberal statutory construction in favor of housing development. In response, the Court noted that its ruling might actually encourage single-unit projects to build additional units, thereby increasing housing production. The Court also noted that, unlike most projects for individual single-family homes, a project consisting of multiple single-family homes suggests that the built homes will not merely be the home for the builder, but will be added to the local housing stock.

Key Point:

  • The Housing Accountability Act does not apply to a project of one individual residential unit.