New California Real Estate Law 2021: Homes in High-Fire Hazard Areas Must Have Ember Resistant Zone

January 1, 2021 New law requires California homeowners to use more intense fuel-reduction measures between five and 30 feet around their structure, and to create an ember-resistant zone within five feet of it.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law


The year 2021 won't bring big changes to California real estate law, but previous years brought massive wildfires that destroyed many homes and cost people their lives. In response, the California legislature passed (and Governor Newsom signed) AB-3074, which addresses "fire prevention, wildfire risk, defensible space, and ember-resistant zones."

Homeowners in high fire-hazard areas (as identified by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) were already subject to various legal requirements. Existing law required (and still requires) them to maintain a defensible space of 100 feet from each side and from the front and rear of their house or structure. Violations can be punished as crimes.

This new law adds to those requirements. Homeowners will need to use more intense fuel-reduction measures in the area between five and 30 feet around their structure, and to create an ember-resistant zone within the five-foot area.
Exactly what that means for the homeowner will continue to depend in part on the property. It doesn't necessarily mean one has to pour a circle of cement! The law states that the modification should take into account the "flammability of the structure as affected by building material, building standards, location, and type of vegetation. Fuels shall be maintained in a condition so that a wildfire burning under average weather conditions would be unlikely to ignite the structure."
As before, violation of these provisions will be considered a crime, though the law mentions that such enforcement should be pursued only as a last resort.
For details, California homeowners will need to await regulations promulgated by the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, which are expected to be phased in over the next two years.
Effective Date: January 1, 2021