More Than Meets The
May 20, 2011
Eye Permits At 674 15th Avenue
Building permits would suggest only the kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanity have been replaced at an “estimated cost of $10,000” since purchased for $935,000 in August 2005.
The listing photos, text, and floor plan for 674 15th Avenue might suggest a bit more.
∙ Listing: 674 15th Avenue (3/2) – $1,095,000 [674-15thavenue.com] [Floor Plan]
Comments from Plugged-In Readers
Per the floor plan, it appears the downstairs bedroom is also unpermitted, as you can’t have a bedroom receiving it’s light and air from a crawl space.
Exactly. what a complete scam this is:
For the owner to play this game of outright cheating. Just looking at the kitchen anyone knows the const. cost was more than $10k.
And for the building permit bureaucrats for (apparently) allowing this to happen. That lower floor bedroom is so illegal it’s not funny.
Wonder who was paid off on this one?
I doubt that anybody was “paid off”. This is just a case where the owners were very, very lucky and escaped neighbor complaints about construction without permit or exceeding scope.
I wonder how long their luck will continue. Has anyone seen the disclosures? This place looks great, but I can’t imagine paying this kind of money for work performed without a permit.
Hi, just a (perhaps) naive question from an avid reader of the site. Is it common to have the seller divulge or fix any un-permitted work prior to a sale or otherwise to have would-be buyers negotiate the price down? Any anecdotal info on what others have seen would be appreciated. Would also be interested to know if most people do their own checking on permits or if they see it happening in the loan process tied to county records.
Oh, I think it’s entirely possible some inspectors were paid off, in the form of favors or actual money.
And it has nothing to do with being “lucky”. It really has to do with city employees, namely building inspectors who are paid to go to job sites to review construction, per the original scope of the permit. Someone was simply shirking their duties. Any inspector who did not see that bedroom with windows on a crawl space is incompetent. That kind of construction should not be allowed.
The original permit holders should be held to the law and required to tear out any illegal construction and pay additional permit fees and fines. This kind of cheating hurts everyone.
When you pay for a permit, you are no longer able to grossly underestimate the cost of the improvements. The inspector reviewing the permit application now gets the value from a cost estimating book. Don’t remember if this method was in effect back in 2008 when permits for this home were pulled.
Revised permit fees came into effect on 9-2-2008.
Building permit cost schedule effective as of March 19, 2009. This schedule outlines in detail the minimum costs per square foot or square yard, or building component that is acceptable. These valuations determine the actual cost of the building permit. Info can be downloaded from the SF DBI website.
When the inspectors come out, you tip the bed on its side and call it storage space. And you do the permitted work first, get the permits signed off, and then do the unpermitted work. No inspectors around.
As for interested reader’s question, the answer is NO. You get a form from the seller saying it’s an old house and who knows what happened. Your realtor isn’t likely to say anything that will keep him from his commission check, though some do.
Permits from the mid 80s on are on line. Search “San Francisco Permit Complaint” and you’ll find them. Anything that looks newer than 1985 and isn’t permitted is not permitted. Sometimes the inspector will find stuff obviously not permitted, and sometimes, the seller hides it by tipping the bed up on its side when the inspection is being performed so you have to look closely (the inspector will mention that he inspected 2 bedrooms and that’s your tip off).
Real estate goes to the dumbest buyer. If someone is willing to pay full price, you won’t get any concessions. Best bet is to wait a few months, and when no dumb buyer is produced, YOU get to be the dumbest and so you can make your offer accordingly. A lot of expensive unpermitted problems are hidden behind walls.
The seller will tell you there are no problems and permitting is merely a formality. Your realtor (many, but not all, are basically professional con artists: why do you think the seller is paying him so much) will tell you the worst case scenario is 5 cents worth of work. He’ll even suggest a contractor who will tell you it’s 5 cents worth of work, because if he tanks the deal by telling you the truth, the realtor will never recommend him again. Then when you buy it, it will turn out to be expensive or impossible to remedy.
In short: you should proceed as if you are on your f*cking own. The loan docs will be a confusing jumble of documents. Not the right time to find out about stuff like this, and they won’t really tell you.
Best bet on something like this: get an inspection contingency, HIRE YOUR OWN CONTRACTOR, NOT THE REALTOR’s and then pay him $300 to look around. If the seller is in a negotiating mood (i.e. after lots of time has passed) you might be able to get some concession but not nearly what it will cost you in the end.
tipster that is quite a hilarious post…
How many times have you actually had an inspection done on a construction project in SF? I have done more than 50 and what you describe is not reality?
I’ve not looked at the permit history in this case, but is it not possible that this basement bedroom existed prior to this small remodel?
@ tipster: Well, yea. I guess your post is sorta “hilarious”. Ha Ha. I’m not really laughing.
But you are right, in the sense that a LOT of people, sellers/buyers/realtors behave this way.
It’s called cheating. It’s called being a loser. It’s called trying to play the system for your own gain, regardless of anyone else. And it goes on a lot, unfortunately.
BTW: on all the projects I have designed in the last 11 years, we have always had inspectors at the job site; my contractors and I have demanded it.
You guys are pros and wouldn’t pull this kind of crap I described. But the amateurs pay $1000 psft including the unfinished space, so they cut every corner because there isn’t any money left over to do it right.
This house was *not* a construction project. It was a remodel job. Probably several of them. Different standards.
The realtor could have told them to pay more, thereby increasing the commission, and hooked them up with a contractor who would do it on the cheap, under the table, and without permits. The realtor could have told them for a few grand, they could turn a two bedroom into a three bedroom, a three bedroom would be worth $X, so they should bid $X minus a few thousand. There would have been no money left over to do anything right.
Come on tipster! You are really, really trying to spin this one.
Since when is remodeling not a construction job?
Since when does that allow this cheapskate to use “different standards”?
Since when does “doing something right” necessarily imply high costs?
But yes, these kind of people are absolutely out there every day. They have to live with themselves. They have to deal with the karma.
Here another thought, maybe they couldnt get permits for what they wanted to do, SF has some real BS setback rules and other ridiculous stipulations. Was the back expanded? I couldnt even extend my rear deck slightly because currently on an RH-3 building in district 6 you need a 45% rear yard, which is ridiculous, show me a Victorian who’s lot size is almost half rear yard. I would have been happy to pull a permit to redo the deck and do it completely to code but the city forced me to do it on my own in this case. Just food for thought
So, they “forced” you to do it on your own,huh?
Got it. Thanks for letting us know. What’s your address?
It’s not illegal if it’s been signed off. Period The End.
Legal or not, the upstairs floor plan is crap.
Crap? Why, that’s the perfect work triangle…for Michael Flatley!
Love your simplistic logic LD.
Rooms defined as “bedrooms” with windows onto a crawl space are blatantly ILLEGAL.
Spin it any way you want.
Wow, there is some serious hostility here to people who do un-permitted work. Sometimes, it’s just as simple as not wanting to deal with the city’s BS. Or, not wanting to have your neighbor’s weigh in on what you would like to do with YOUR home. San Francisco laws in this regard are completely absurd and give entirely too much power to neighbors.
How many times have we heard about the project that takes 1-2 years to get permitted because of the DR process and the endless appeals that are allowed? How much money so you think property owners have spent to defend themselves against ridiculous neighbors who either don’t want any construction at all going on near their home or who will be otherwise ever so slightly inconvenienced by a project? I can assure you – from personal experience and from from the experience of friends – that it is a massive number. All because some jerk doesn’t want to hear power saws for two weeks. Or because some NIMBY neighbor would prefer that you use a different trim on your roof line. Or they really would prefer that you didn’t use that commercially zoned space for commercial purposes.
There is no way to stop a neighbor from filing a DR, no matter how ridiculous the claims. They can say absolutely anything, as long as they file the paperwork you have to delay your project. You have to go to a hearing, there is no gatekeeper. And even if you win, the neighbor can appeal. If the city is going to leave homeowners open to this kind of ridiculous, expensive attack – which oftentimes is de-facto blackmail – then there will always be a lot of un-permitted work.
As for a room in the basement with no windows, fresh air, etc. who cares? The new owners will decide how to use it, whether as a guest room, storage, whatever. They will also decide whether or not theyt want to take on the risk of un-permitted work. Caveat Emptor.
@noearch – illegal or not, who cares? As I said above, the new owner will decide how to use the room. Why are you so concerned about this?
As this is an interior remodel, none of the points in your comment apply here.
Question – in a case where the houses are right up against one another (as in this case) who owns that outside wall visible in the picture of the deck? It’s got a painting on it and some plants – it’s technically the side of the neighbor’s house, but it seems like the owners of this house have done the decorating. There is also no access to this wall from the neighbors’ house without going onto this property.
Because in the larger picture of life and living among one another, we should care about behavior.
Why should we care that someone drives drunk? Why should we care that someone texts while driving? Because it’s dangerous to other and illegal.
Why should we care that our neighbors do un-permitted work? It’s not at all about being “nosy” or interfering with their choices. It’s because we all live together here in rather dense locations, and what our neighbor may do to his property inside or out does, in fact, affect us.
Building an un-permitted deck or addition may encroach deeper into a rear yard, thus reducing the enjoyment of our own property. Un-permitted decks have been built unsafely and collapsed, injuring or killing people.
Building a “bedroom” without code compliant light and fresh air is just plain dangerous, not to mention sleazy. Windows are also used as egress points in case of fire.
Yes, some (or maybe a lot) of people build without permits here in SF. They are the losers, they are the ones who will always cheat and try to bend the system their way. Do you really like those kind of people?
I totally agree the permit process can be daunting and slow moving. It’s not very different in other large cities as well. (not suburbs). You either choose to work within the system, and get the right professionals to move you thru the process, or:
You cheat. It’s a choice.
@noearch – I hear what you’re saying, but I just can’t make the “losers and cheats” leap. Many of them just don’t want to get bogged down in nonsense. As for “most major cities being like this” that is absolutely not true. San Francisco is actually the only major city in the country where there is no gatekeeper to the DR process.
And gross or not, the new owner will decide what to do with the room. Have you never been in a finished basement? There has to be a point where we say, “This is your property and you can do what you want with it, within reason”. In San Francisco, that line is regularly crossed.
The DR process here in SF is not simple, even for the DR applicant. There is a “gatekeeper” assigned to each project to determine if a DR is valid or not. The gatekeeper is a Planner of the Dept.
The DR application is 12 pages long. There is a DR fee. You can download all that information on their website.
The cities of LA, Chicago, NY, Seattle have similar processes in place. Some may be simpler than ours, some may be more complex.
I agree that some people abuse the DR process, and many owners/contractors abuse the permit process.
I would say for those who don’t like the processes, the codes, then maybe work with your local supervisor/government to change the rules.
Points well taken on each side as there is validity in both. Neighbors do have too much decision making power as it relates to your home and S.F. building codes can be ridiculous and that is why so many do work without the benefit of permits.
For what it’s worth here and IMHO:
1. I ‘remodeled’ a condo in 1998 without permits. Nothing fancy but changed tile and fixtures in the Bathroom, no moving of plumbing. Painted Kitchen cabinets and added granite countertops. The only change that I did that really necessitated ( in my opinion )a permit was recessed lighting. Fast forward 6 years to sale……..I disclosed that I did not take out permits and the buyers asked for a $8K holdback in escrow to cover the costs to make the unit ‘legal’ and of course, every dollar was used. Point here is sometimes it costs you more to do work without a permit and in this case above, if the seller did do work without permits, a buyer can do the same.
2. Bought another Single Family Home and did a gut job and took out permits for everything, Electrical, Plumbing and extension out from original footprint. Those permits are written such that you would not know the extent of the work simply by reviewing them. It is how it is presented to the building dept. All was signed off. Fast forward 14 years later and I wanted to add just a few more recessed lights which should have been done with the first round and the electrician tells me that I could get a permit for the additionl lights but that the code has changed and the electrical inpector would want all the existing cieling cans removed and changed out and that would require opening every ceiling in the house. This is a case where you do not want to open that ‘can of worms’ with permits.
3. Just last week had a seasoned, well known contractor come by to look at my foundation for upgrading and he tells me that he will not work in some areas of the city because those inspectors will ask for payoffs to get permits signed off. Take it for what ever it is worth but I believe him…..I thought being ‘on the take’ was a thing of the past here in S.F. May be time for another sweep of the DBI.
“The DR process here in SF is not simple, even for the DR applicant. There is a “gatekeeper” assigned to each project to determine if a DR is valid or not. The gatekeeper is a Planner of the Dept.”
This is incorrect. A gatekeeper would have the power to say “this application for DR does not qualify”. The planner has no such power. If someone files a DR – which is cheap and very, very easy – then there is a hearing. No exceptions.. They can also appeal the decision. No exceptions. There is no gatekeeper, whatsoever. The 12 page application takes about 10 minutes to fill out and only requires short answers. I believe the fee is something like $300, hardly a deterrent.
The other major cities you list do have similar processes, but they also will throw out (at least some) frivolous applications. In San Francisco, if you file a DR you get a hearing, always. They offer free mediation, but it isn’t required (or even encouraged, as far as I can tell). Instant construction delay of 6 months (if you’re lucky) and golden opportunity for extortion.
This process is highly inefficient and completely tilted in the favor of the filer, who loses almost nothing by filing and dragging the process out as long as possible. Meanwhile, the party who proposes the project loses huge amounts of money in construction delays, time, possible legal fees (as you said, it’s not a simple process), etc.
You’re right, this process should be changed and there are channels to do so. But in the meantime, people are going to work around them, just as they always do with any ridiculous laws or regulations. I just can’t make the leap to “losers and cheats”. More like “practical and unwilling to spend years of their lives on nonsense”.
So you like to think I’m “incorrect”. Big deal. Think what you want to think.
I’m stating some facts. You disagree with them. The Planner assigned to a project does, in fact, have the authority to determine whether a DR applicant has sufficient grounds to file a DR or not.
My experience with clients and projects has shown me these facts. Take it or leave it. I stand by what I say.
Oh, by the way:
What radar commented about is very true: All good points and those types of events do exist in SF.
Again, there are channels to challenge and discuss and change the process.
Some of my projects have been challenged by the DR process. We work thru them with meetings, reviews, design modifications, but the projects get built and my clients are happy. I am paid. All is well.
Sorry if I seem harsh, not my intent. It’s simply a statement of fact: a planner cannot stop a DR. If you file for it, you get it. It’s not my rule.
Your understanding of the DR is spot on. However, using it as a rational for not applying for a permit makes no sense. Most remodels in SF never go through a DR. Only projects which are an expansion to the building or major exterior alterations are subject to a DR. Do you really think someone would be able to undertake an addition to their house without the neighbors noticing? Hardly, and the consequences could be substantial, including a fine of ten times what the original permit fee would have been.
Toured this place today. Very nice, except bizarre floorplan. Really a 1 bedroom + 1 bath + great kitchen + great deck + great dining room.
The entire downstairs bedroom and (nice) bathroom is really absurd and it’s not at all obvious how it would be utilized. The “window” in the downstairs bedroom opens to pitch black and views dirt. Not only is it not an acceptable egress, it’s not even an unacceptable egress. If there was a fire, you would be trapped.
All in all, it’s about $200K over priced. If they knocked it down $200K, it’s sell in a heartbeat. As is, it’s going to sit on the market a while.
The realtor’s website for this property clearly states a 3 bedroom house.
He should be reported to the Dept. of Real Estate for this egregious lie. The 3rd bedroom as we have stated and others have seen is illegal, and in fact a firetrap, as mentioned by PD.
And yet some of you actually think I’m too harsh by calling people who do unpermitted work “losers and cheaters”.
I am amazed by the ignorance.
I’m guessing that at one point that lower bedroom did have some light, but they expanded the upstairs so now it doesn’t. I lived in a house with a similar layout (it’s so common in SF), but the upstairs was slightly smaller.
You know what else is bothersome about this place, is that there is no access to the rear garden for maintenance. The owner or the gardener will have to carry everthing through the house.
They are clearly proud of their kitchen, but wow, what a crappy design on that top floor, permits or not.
I see unpermitted work as a potential liability for the buyer. That said, I see less harm in things that radar or mikeyWoodz suggested than certain other types of things people do, e.g. having an illegal bedroom. Maybe it’s because I do have respect for safety, but I have no respect for NIMBYs. 🙂
SF’s ridiculous rules do drive people to this sometimes, but some people are just cheats.
Well, I’m neither a buyer, seller, planner, architect, nimby, and have never filed a DR. I’ve lived in my home for 30 years and have always followed the rule that my neighbor’s home is his business. But, that was not prudent as I discovered over the past several years with regards to my next door neighbor. The first two owners, for the last 20 plus years lived in the home. The last, rented it out, but not before putting in an illegal unit downstairs. We later found out that his permit only covered “new windows”. But, instead, he put in a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, in the former basement of a single family home with the new unit having 6 foot ceilings, a couple of windows, and no vents for the illegal heater, stove, etc. How did I know about that. Well, the last group of tenants in the main upstairs home, subleased that space to a couple of Hells Angels who ran a repair shop for stolen motorcycles in part of the garage space. They were arrested when an alert cop saw one of the stolen bikes in the driveway. Then, an alert permit officer at the local police station and some concerned neighbors, called the city planning department which sent an inspector and made the owner pay fines and pull out all the dangerous and illegal plumbing and electrical. Now, the R-1 home is truly R-1, and the owner, has only been able to sporadically rent the property to other tenants over the past several years. As one contractor told me, after I pointed out that kids were living in the unsafe illegal unit, “I’m surprised no one died in this place”. Now, not all work without permits is dangerous but all is illegal. I’m sorry that it’s a hassle to obey the law. Yeah, I like doing 90 on I-5 to L.A. too. But, if I get ticket, I don’t tell the cop that it’s inconvenient and a hassle to do 70. And one more note what happens if there was a fire and someone was hurt or killed. Do you think the homeowner’s insurance company, looking for anyway to diminish or eliminate it’s liability, would cite the lack of permits as a mitigating factor?
[Editor’s Note: Promoted to a post: Which Is Worse, Unpermitted Work Or The Hells Angels? Cheers.]
The list price for 674 15th Avenue has been reduced $100,000 (9%), now asking $995,000.
The sale of 674 15th Avenue has closed escrow with a reported contract price of $995,000. Once again, purchased for $935,000 in August 2005 but remodeled, expanded and updated quite a bit since.
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