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Amnesty Coordinator

ADU Amnesty Program

Did you construct an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) or convert a garage, basement, or room into a separate living unit — also called an ADU — without obtaining a building permit?

Between now and January 2022, the City of San José is offering an ADU Amnesty Program to help you legalize your unit. Importantly, the program improves the safety of these units and helps to expand the City’s legal housing stock.

Eligible properties

  • The unit was built or converted prior to December 31, 2019.
  • The unit is currently occupied by a resident.
  • There is not an existing building permit application to legalize the unit.

Reasons to legalize your unit

Here are the benefits:

  • Reduce risks to occupants. Units that are unpermitted may unknowingly present serious health and safety risks to the occupants.

  • Reduce liability. An illegal unit poses significant liability to the owner. For example, insurance will not cover damages from a fire that starts in an illegal unit.

  • Increase property value. Improve the potential for both rental income and resale value by legalizing the unit.

  • Peace of mind. Legalizing your unit may eliminate worries about a code enforcement action against you.

  • Save $10,000 or more before January 2022. For program participants who qualify for a financial hardship exemption, they may benefit from fee waivers that may total over $10,000. These waivers will expire when the ADU Amnesty Program ends in January 2022.

Explore the program

Find out if this program is right for you with the ADU Amnesty Self-Assessment Checklist and our diagram, Your Pathway to a Legalized ADU.

The Self-Assessment Checklist is also available in Spanish and Vietnamese:

To help you assess the costs of legalizing your unit, we highly recommend that you obtain quotes from more than one experienced, licensed contractor for the work that may be necessary to legalize your unit.

Business tax & fee waivers

To help owners who undertake the legalization process, the San José City Council approved waiving certain fees.

All amnesty applicants qualify for the waiver of the illegal construction penalty fee. To qualify for additional fee waivers, the applicant must meet the criteria for the Business Tax Financial Hardship Exemption. Your rental income is considered a business, and all landlords are required to pay a business tax.

Owners of ADUs qualify for a business tax exemption if:

  • Annual gross receipts (rental income) are $24,980 or less, OR
  • ADU owner’s adjusted gross income is $49,960 or less

If you qualify for the business tax exemption, you will also qualify for the other fee waivers. See the table below.

750 SF & OVER
Amnesty for all applicants - illegal construction penalty is waived $1,435 $2,088
*Annual Business Tax (approximately $200) 200 200
*Permit Fee 5,900 5,900
Savings Subtotal $7,535 $8,188
*Park Impact Fee- Amount depends on location of the property $1,700 to $8,900 $1,700 to $8,900
School Fee- State law waives this fee for units under 750 sf amount depends on school district not available

* Proof of Business Tax Financial Hardship exemption must be submitted with your documents for a building permit to qualify for these waivers. Apply for the exemption at the Business Tax Financial Hardship Exemption webpage.

Your pathway to a legalized ADU

There is no obligation to you in the first two steps of the ADU Amnesty Program:

Step 1 - Self-Assessment Checklist. Use the checklist to determine if the program is right for you and to find answers to most questions. To help you consider the costs of the necessary improvements to legalize your unit, we highly recommend that you obtain quotes from more than one experienced, licensed contractor.

Step 2 - Eligibility Conversation. Call the Amnesty Coordinator for a conversation about the conditions of your unit and your eligibility. Discuss your option for the 5-Year Delay of Enforcement. You will not be asked for your name or address unless you’re ready to proceed with scheduling an inspection.

You are obligated to legalize your unit upon step 3 of the program.

Step 3 - Initial Inspection. The City’s third-party inspector will examine the space, take photos, and generate a report that outlines any required work. You will receive a copy of the report. Upon inspection, you are obligated to fix violations to any basic health and safety codes as soon as reasonably possible. You are also obligated to legalize the unit, and if you choose, you may apply to the City for a five-year delay of enforcement.

Understanding the 5-Year Delay of Enforcement - Upon the initial inspection, you are required to legalize the unit in a timely manner. However, State laws (AB 68 and AB 881), effective January 1, 2020, allow you to apply to the City for a five-year delay of enforcement on the type of items described in Section C of the Self-Assessment Checklist. (Section C is not a comprehensive list, but shows the common type of improvements that might be needed to obtain a building permit.) The delay allows you to have five years before being subject to enforcement to complete the legalization process. You cannot delay the items listed in Section B of the Self-Assessment Checklist.

Step 4 - Hire a designer and contractor. We highly recommend that you hire a professional draftsperson or designer to prepare your construction plans as required for a building permit application. The plans should be prepared following instructions in Bulletin 211-ADU Plan Requirements. TIP: Submitting complete, accurate plans is the key to getting your building permit as quickly as possible. 

Step 5 - Schedule Submittal of Plans. Call 408-535-7770 to schedule an appointment. Bring:

If you are subject to any fees, be ready to pay. Payment options:

  • Make check payable to “City of San José”
  • Pay with credit card at the City Hall Cashier window
  • Pay online at

Step 6 - Permit Pass. A Permit Pass will be sent to your email address. You can then pick up your building permit at the Code Enforcement counter, 4th floor at City Hall.

Step 7 - Proceed with construction and inspections. Your contractor should read Bulletin 213 Inspection Checklist for ADUs for tips on how to avoid costly common construction mistakes. Your contractor should also schedule the inspections by calling 408-535-7770. After passing final inspection, you are ....


Your ADU is legalized! Congratulations!

For questions about the ADU Amnesty program, contact the Amnesty Coordinator:
408-535-7770 or