Moving the Garage

If you have a detached, one-story garage behind the house, check to see if there’s space behind the garage–between the garage and the rear property line. If there is, you could gain valuable room in the back yard by demolishing the existing garage and building a new one further back. The new garage could be placed in one of the rear corners of the lot. This would add usable yard space, and allow you to expand the house toward the rear, if desired.
You can build a garage at the side and rear of the lot.
What makes all this legally possible is the current zoning code: in R1 zones (and certain other ones also), the Los Angeles zoning code allows an accessory building to be placed directly against the rear and side property lines, subject to certain conditions (Code Section 12.21 C.5 (j)).

This was not always the case historically, and many older properties have a detached garage set-in from the rear (and sometimes side) property line by several feet. This creates a small yard area behind the garage that some people find useful, but limits what can be done with the rest of the yard.

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In many cases, moving the garage all the way back can benefit even a small addition to the rear of the house. For one thing, the code requires a 10-foot separation between the garage and the house. And the garage also needs clear space in front to accommodate access to vehicles (the City has guidelines on the required driveway access dimensions). All of this requires space between the back of the house and the garage, and it’s all made easier by moving–or rather constructing a new garage at the back.

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Size and cost
A typical two-car garage in Los Angeles is about 20 feet wide by 20 feet long. The dimensions may vary a bit, depending on specific conditions, and the City requires certain minimum dimensions. Slightly wider and longer makes it easier to park and provide storage cabinets too.

As of this writing, the cost of a simple basic garage, flat roof, stucco walls and conventional garage door is about $30,000-$35,000. Various fees may raise this another $2,000 or so, depending on specific conditions and design. Fancier design, better materials, a pitched roof and nicer door–all these add to the cost, but might be a better fit with the design of the main house.

Check your lot’s zoning before proceeding
Before you get started, it is best to make sure of the zoning requirements for your specific lot. They may be considerably more restrictive than for a generic R1 lot. An architect can research this quickly, and you could also visit the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety and speak to a plan check official to get this information.

Although not strictly necessary for preliminary information, a survey would provide a great deal of helpful information, since it would identify utility easements, the size and position of the main house, and other important data. Also, keep in mind that a two-story detached garage would be subject to very different rules; the topic of a future post.