Small Lot Subdivision Blog

Derek Leavitt

Recent Posts

The Best Lots to Utilize the Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Fri, Feb 26, 2010 @ 06:02 AM

Although lots in Los Angeles come in many shapes and sizes, our research has shown that a few common and important characteristics exist that can help determine the success of a “small lot” project.

la small lot subdivision elevation

Preliminary elevation of a three-unit small lot subdivision project.

With a little creativity, almost all multi-family residential properties can be designed to properly utilize the small lot ordinance. However, in our experience, what really makes the difference in the success of a project is starting with property of a certain size, shape, and configuration. Oh, and let’s not forget, you need to be in the appropriate zone as well.

Zoning and Small Lot Subdivision

R1, R2 Zones:
The zone plays a very important role in determining the possibility of utilizing small lot subdivision. For starters, all R1 zones are out of the equation. The small lot ordinance does not allow it. R2 zones are also pretty much impossible unless they are located within a certain radius of commercially-zoned properties.
RD Zones
We have found that RD zones are your best bet for small lot subdivision, especially RD1.5 and RD2 zoned properties. The size and configuration of many available properties within these zones allow for creative 2- to 6-unit projects. Often these properties are too small to rationalize stacking multiple condominium units, which may force you to place parking underground in order to meet the requirements of a condo project. By properly utilizing the many breaks the
small lot ordinance allows, these restricted density, multiple family dwelling zones provide the greatest opportunity for a quality and memorable product that differentiates itself from other products available in the market today.
R3, R4, and R5 Zones
You are allowed to utilize the small lot ordinance within R3, R4, and R5 properties. However, we have found that the price of these high-density, multiple-residential dwelling properties often force you to stack as many units as possible in order to minimize the land-price-per-unit cost and maximize your profit potential. Often, a condominium is the only viable option in R3, R4 and R5 zones, unless the property is too small to park and maximize the allowable unit count within these zones.
C Zones
You are allowed to utilize the small lot ordinance within commercially-zoned properties. However, as with the R3, R4 and R5 zones, the higher price of commercially zoned properties often reduces  the viability of a small lot project. However, if the lot size and price is right, a small lot subdivision can be an interesting alternative to a typical commercial or mixed-use project.

Allowable Density in a Few Multiple Family Zones


Min. Area per

Dwelling Unit

 1,500 sq. ft.
 RD2 2,000 sq. ft.
 R3 800 sq. ft.

Zone: R3, R4, and R5

The Condominium Solution
On a 55’ X 140’ lot in an R3 zone, you can park and fit up to nine 2-bedroom condominium units.

Los Angeles R3 Zoning DevelopmentSince you are allowed to stack units and share common walls, you can easily maximize the allowable density, minimizing your price-per-unit costs, and maximizing your profitability in the right market. The high-risk condo project may be worth the potential return on investment.

The Small Lot Subdivision Solution

On the same 55’ X 140’ lot in an R3 zone, can do small lot subdivision.

Los Angeles Zone RD1.5 Small Lot Subdivision DevelopmentHowever, Since you are not allowed to stack multiple units and share common walls, the same lot yields only about 4-5 units. Since the average R3 lot tends to have high land costs due to its developable potential, it becomes much more difficult to create a feasible small-lot project compared to a 9-unit condo project. 

Zone: RD1.5, RD2

The Condominium Solution

On a 55’ X 140’ lot in an RD 1.5 ZOne, you can park and fit up to five 2-bedroom condominium units.

In this scenario, however, why create a typical, high-risk, high-liability condominium project when you can provide the same unit count with a fee-simple small lot subdivision.

The Small Lot Subdivision Solution

On a 55’ X 140’ lot in an RD 1.5 ZOne, you can park and fit the same amount of units as a condominium project while providing a better and more desirable product. These fee-simple townhouse residences have a lot less risk, no homeowners association and may even offer a higher price point than a condo building with common walls and less privacy.

Modative Can Help 

If you're interested in finding a property for small lot subdivision, Modative can help. We have experience finding appropriate properties and assisting potential small lot developers with quick feasibility analysis to determine if a project makes financial sense.

Feel free to contact Modative for more information.

The information in this post and other useful small lot information can be downloaded for free from our website - Small Lot Subdivison Guide Download.

Tags: Los Angeles, Small Lot Subdivision, small homes, Subdivisions, Multi Family Housing

Top 10 Things To Know About Los Angeles Small Lot Subdivision

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Thu, Jan 7, 2010 @ 07:01 AM

1. Small lot homes are not condominiums. They are fee simple, meaning you own the land the home sits on.

2. Residences on individual lots must have separate foundations and walls.

3. Driveways, walkways and utility access are accomplished through easements.

4. Each subdivided lot may contain up to three residential units.

5. Small lot subdivision projects are required to file a parcel map (four or less units) or a tract map (five or more units) to subdivide the land.

6. Homeowners association is not required. Only a maintenance association is required.

7. Each dwelling is required to have two parking spaces. No guest parking is required for projects under 10 units.

8. All zoning codes (including density) are the same as a standard project. Some breaks are given on setbacks and open space requirements.

9. Because small lot projects are fee simple, they have lower liability and insurance rates than condominiums.

10. The design and entitlements of small lot subdivision projects can be complex. Hiring consultants with experience is recommended.


small lot los angeles

Small Lot Subdivision Diagram

A diagram of some of the Small Lot Subdivision basics.


This Top 10 list and other Small Lot information can be found in our free download - "How-To" Guide on Developing Small Lot Subdivisions in Los Angeles

Tags: Los Angeles, Residential, Small Lot Subdivision, Development, Multi Family Housing

Introduction to Small Lot Subdivision in Los Angeles

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Tue, Jan 5, 2010 @ 14:01 PM

To launch the Small Lot Subdivision Blog, I thought we'd offer up a quick introduction into what Small Lot in Los Angeles is all about. Enjoy.

The Small Lot Ordinance

The City of Los Angeles enacted the Small Lot Ordinance (No. 17354) in December of 2004. The ordinance allows the construction of smaller, fee-simple housing in multi-family zones.

Not Your Typical Condo or Townhouse

The residents of a Small-Lot home actually own the land the unit sits on. Since the ordinance does not allow for common foundations or shared, or common, walls between units, there is no Homeowners Association needed or any of the typical fees associated with condominium ownership.

Smaller Lots

The City of Los Angeles is pushing developers and property owners to utilize the Small Lot Ordinance as a smart-growth alternative to the suburban single-family home or typical condominium development. You can create smaller residential lots than previously allowed. It is also now easier to provide a creative alternative to the typical, and often unappealing, condominium unit or overpriced and over-sized single-family residential property.

small lot subdivision intro

Get Something Back

For those willing to take advantage of this new ordinance, the code offers breaks from the usual stringent code requirements. The ordinance  grants reduced setback requirements as well as other breaks on often strenuous site requirements that can severely limit the number of units you are able to develop on the typical multi-family residential lot.

Small Lot Subdivision Architects

This blog is provided by Modative, modern architects in Los Angeles with extensive experience designing and entitling Small Lot Subdivision projects. We also offer free and informative Small Lot Subdivision downloads.

Tags: Los Angeles, Small Lot Subdivision, Development, Subdivisions