Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance | Los Angeles Conservancy
(l-r) Echo Park and Larchmont Heights. Photos by Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy and Laura Dominguez/L.A. Conservancy

What is the Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance?

Introduced to Los Angeles in 2005, the Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance regulates the construction of single-family infill housing in commercial and multi-family neighborhoods. The ordinance aims to create a new path for home ownership for first-time buyers. 

As of 2016, the ordinance is currently being revised to address shortcomings and loopholes in the original version. 


Conceived by smart growth proponents as a viable solution to Los Angeles' tight housing market, the City of Los Angeles adopted the Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance in 2005. The ordinance aimed to encourage the construction of smaller, more affordable infill housing to target first-time home buyers in an increasingly unaffordable market. 

The ordinance allowed for the creation of detached townhouses on land zoned for commercial and multi-family use, reducing setback requirements and minimum lot sizes from five thousand to six hundred square feet. In turn, these properties could be sold outright to homebuyers, a process that distinguishes small lot homes from condominiums or apartments. 

Though the Small Lot Subvdivision Ordinance presents an innovative solution to Los Angeles's housing shortage, the ordinance has also faced opposition from residents, neighborhood groups, and affordable housing advocates.

Critics argue that oversized small lot developments are often incompatible with the scale and character of older multi-family neighborhoods, producing results similar to mansionization in single-family neighborhoods. Areas like Venice, Silver Lake, and Echo Park have seen steady increases in this pattern of development, adding bulk to existing streetscapes and reducing open space. 

In some cases, heightened demand for these modern homes has encouraged the demolition of existing multi-family residences, including bungalow courts, duplexes and fourplexes, and courtyard apartments with rent-controlled units. Though small lot homes are marketed as affordable or accessible to new homeowners, studies show that prices are increasingly higher than the median cost of a single-family home in Los Angeles. 

In response to community concerns, City Councilmembers Mitch O'Farrell and Mike Bonin filed a motion in July 2015 to direct the Department of City Planning to address current shortcomings in the Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance. Under consideration are changes to setback requirements, buildable lot areas, new design standards, and updated review process for bungalow courts. 

STATUS OF ORDINANCE AMENDMENTS: The City released draft Code Amendments and Design Standards in June 2016, incorporating feedback from public outreach and hearings. The City Planning Commission and the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee reviewed the amendments in late summer 2016 and in January 2017. The amendments are awaiting full City Council review and adoption. 

Learn more about teardown trends in multi-family neighborhoods >>

View a 2015 map of small lot developments in Los Angeles via KCET >>