The proposed ordinance which would allow the construction of new “Accessory Dwelling Units” (i.e., In-Law Units) in the Castro and within 1,750 feet of the District’s boundaries could be approved by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors this afternoon.
The new units would need to be constructed within an existing building’s envelope, would not be allowed to exceed 750 square feet in size, and could not use space from an existing dwelling unit in its construction. In-Laws would not be permitted in areas zoned for detached single-family homes, but they would be allowed in existing auxiliary structures.
And while newly created, the units would be subject to Rent Control if the existing building or any of the units within the existing building are currently subject to Rent Control.
A back of the envelope calculation estimated a theoretical maximum of 1,545 units could be constructed in the neighborhood under the terms of the ordinance, but the expected number of units to be constructed under the ordinance is closer to 400 (at most).

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by Bob

    So what is it – 1500 or 400??
    [Editor's Note: Yes. (1,545 theoretically possible, but a maximum of around 400 expected to be built.)]

  2. Posted by zig

    Why do we even have areas in SF designated SFH? If you can’t build a granny unit/cottage in SF where could you? Many suburb are already allowing these now aren’t they?

  3. Posted by observant neighbor

    what’s the rationale for not allowing space from an existing dwelling unit to be added to the new in-law?

  4. Posted by Futurist

    And how many of those new tenants will have a car, only adding to parking problems that are already extremely tight in that part of SF?
    And I’m assuming the in-laws do not have to comply with off street parking requirements, which they should.

  5. Posted by Live There

    How will this work in our life time. One assumes the SF Building department will have to inspect each of the 400 units and approve or set up Compliance rules that the landlord must meet such as fire exit safety, light, ceiling height etc.. etc.. If this inspection is required, by a city department that is already backlogged, it could take years before a unit receives an inspection or becomes legal. I do not understand the process if there is one.

  6. Posted by Pioneer

    With the trades charging what they are during this boom, and with permitting and inspections, these in-law unitis will cost about $400 per square foot and take 4-5 years on average to complete.

  7. Posted by Curious

    How come only in the Castro and environs?

  8. Posted by Dubocian

    The logic behind not allowing space from existing dwelling units to be used for new units is that without that restriction, there’d be an incentive to gut 2- and 3-bedroom units to carve out an additional studio or 1-br unit, which is not desirable. It would also create incentives to get rid of existing tenants so that their units could be cannibalized in this way.
    I will be very surprised if 400 units get built. The economics don’t work. If you have a relative you’d like to house in a new in-law unit, or you’d like to move into one yourself and rent out your main house to save money in retirement, for example, then it might make sense to do. But spending low-to-mid-six figures to create a rent controlled, somewhat-to-considerably substandard unit which also turns your formerly exempt home into a rent controlled property, with the intent of renting out the new unit – the numbers don’t work, especially when you consider that (for a SFH) both the home and “accessory dwelling unit” will now be rent-controlled forever.
    Supportive of the legislation, I just don’t think it will create many units, and I don’t think many of those units will be on the rental market any time soon.

  9. Posted by james jr

    Yes, why just the Castro?

  10. Posted by lol

    Why the Castro? Scott Wiener is the one who came up with this idea. He’s not as hard-core as the rest of the supes, which is good for the Castro.
    I am concerned by this legalization, by the way.

  11. Posted by Joseph A

    Being a person that lived in an illegal unit at Castro & Hill ,I know 1st hand the units can be very nice though they tend to lack views, they tend to be a little cheaper, and if they were made legal a host of issues tenants have could be addressed.
    I see ZERO issues with this , !

  12. Posted by Joseph A

    My bad , the only major issue I could see would be if a significant amount of garage parking was removed :)

  13. Posted by ls

    Looks like the death star… just sayin

  14. Posted by Theojo

    If the SFH is not detached and has no occupant living there prior to 1996 it is not currently subject to RC. In that case the new unit would not be either based on my reading. Unlike existing inlaw units which despite their illegality do, per the Rent Board, subject the entire property to RC.
    Was this intentional?

  15. Posted by Dubocian

    The legislation is silent on rent control, I believe… the thinking (as I understand it) was that pre-1979 buildings which add in-law units will become subject to rent control (for both units) automatically, or at least that’s how the city attorney expects the courts would rule. It wouldn’t be legal (because of Costa-Hawkins) to try to force units in newer buildings into rent control, and trying to do so might have gotten the whole law thrown out by a court.
    But I’m not sure I’m answering your question. “If the SFH is not detached…” – the only kind of SFH that is not detached is a condominium unit, right? You couldn’t add an in-law unit to a condominium unit. If you are thinking that homes that abut each other are considered “attached,” you are mistaken, those are detached homes. Or maybe I am missing your whole point (in which case, I apologize.)
    I think the legislation applies to a SFH (which could add exactly one “accessory dwelling unit” if there’s existing space to do so (a garage, for example.) It applies to multi-unit apartment buildings (or TICs, since a TIC is just an apartment building with multiple owners) and in these buildings, one or two accessory units can be added depending on how many legal units exist currently.
    However, I do not believe the legislation effects condominium buildings, which are NOT multi-unit buildings, legally (they are individual properties within a common structure.) Not sure what would happen if a condominium owners’ association wanted to convert common area space to an in-law unit (to be owned by the HOA?) or a unit owner with deeded nonresidential space (a garage) wanted to make it an in-law. My brain starts to hurt when I think about it.

  16. Posted by modernedwardian

    agree w/ dubocian’s first post. i’d be shocked if this results in hundreds of new units.
    the economics don’t work out here except in very special situations…retirees looking to capture income while stayed put or downsizing? people w/ parents or children that need supervision and independence?
    otherwise develop the space as an addition to an existing sfh for the highest price per sqft on resale. those owners can still airbnb the addition and capture additional income (just close off the connecting stairs/hall).
    we’re planning a ground floor addition but adding another rent controlled unit is not in the plans.
    we’d go from 2 units to 3, losing fasttrack condo conversion. we’d get a lower price per sqft on eventual sale (SFHs command a premium over condos over 2 units over multiunits). and in this market, bigger seems to be better for buyers in our neighborhood.
    finally, do i really want the city telling my future buyer that she cannot combine my now legal inlaw back into her home because she is getting rid of an affordable housing unit? talk about poisining your buying pool…

  17. Posted by Joseph A

    If your a single home owner, and wanting some extra income I have to agree you get far more flexible income by just building the addition , and renting it out by the night.
    But for steady income rent control or not , with rents north of $2k , even if an addition cost a $200k its a fair investment

  18. Posted by Neema Jalali

    Dubocian: Are you sure about attached/detached, at least in SF planning’s nomenclature? See chart in name link, as well as:
    http://www.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll/California/planning/article2usedistricts?f=templates$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:sanfrancisco_ca$anc=JD_206.1
    In particular, there are a few areas in SF that are zoned RH-1(D), where the D stands for “detached.” In those areas, homes must have side yards (i.e., they do not touch each other), and lots must be at least 33 feet wide (unless grandfathered in). Whether any RH-1(D) areas exist in the Death Star above, I don’t know–maybe not.
    On the other hand, the more typical SFH streets that have 25-foot lots are zoned RH-1. Note no “D” in the name, and no “detached” in the planning chart. These homes can, and usually do, touch each other.
    So, then, what is a “detached” SFH?

  19. Posted by Dubocian

    Neema Jalali: In short, no I’m not 100% sure what they mean. We do have a few “suburban style” neighborhoods in SF – places like Forest Hill, Presidio Heights, Pacific Heights, etc., where the houses are separated. But I guess I’m missing why this matters. Costa-Hawkins applies to all SFHs. Basically if there’s one residence on one legal parcel, that’s a SFR. What law are you discussing that differentiates between homes with side yards and those without?
    SFRs are exempt from rent (but not eviction) control. If you add another unit to a parcel, it’s no longer considered a SFH and rent control may not apply (if the original SFH is pre-1979, etc.) And I think you can assume that you will never be able to regain exemption (because you’ll never get approval to remove the dwelling unit you created.)
    Even illegal in-law units may be enough to cost a property its exemption from rent control.
    I guess I’ve forgotten why we are discussing attached vs. detached SFHs. Where is the difference (if there is any, legally, which I don’t think is the case when it comes to the rent control law) germane?

  20. Posted by SocketSite

    UPDATE: The proposed legislation allowing for the construction of new in-laws in the Castro was passed by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors this afternoon and is a signature away from becoming law.

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