2523 34th Avenue

A real estate agent purchased 2523 34th Avenue, which was listed as a two-bedroom Parkside home with an (unwarranted) two-bedroom in-law unit on the ground floor, both of which were tenant occupied, for $850,000 this past October.

Within a few days, an anonymous complaint was filed with the City, reporting a “suspected” illegal in-law on the ground floor of the home. And the new landlord was subsequently granted a permit to address the complaint and remove the in-law’s kitchen while leaving the full bath and other rooms in place.

Four days later, a 60-day notice to move was served to the tenants of the in-law who have a signed lease, were never previously been told the unit was unwarranted, and from whom the previous landlord had collected rent for three years.

Now in the hands of San Francisco’s Board of Appeals, if the permit, which was granted without the benefit of a notice to the tenants, is upheld, not only will the in-law tenants need to vacate, but the elderly couple in the unit above will lose their rent-controlled and protected tenant status as the building will legally return to being a single-family home.

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by Mark

    This is 5 blocks from my house. This is one of many illegal units throughout the Sunset. Any blame should be placed on the previous owner, not the new owner or tenants. This was neither registered nor sold as a 2-unit building. It’s a single family home that was illegally converted.

    • Posted by Dixon Hill

      It is an established legal principle that purchasers of real estate assume all existing conditions of the real estate (toxic contamination, zoning compliance issues, construction defects). That is why the law requires sellers to disclose everything relevant and ethical real estate agents tend to be very scrupulous about this. Ignorance is no excuse to the new owner but he may have a cause for action against the seller if there was a failure to disclose. The fact that he is a real estate “professional” puts some expectation that he would have undertaken proper due-diligence and investigated whether the existing tenancies in the building were legally permissible. That he used this apparently sleazy anonymous complaint gambit strongly suggests that he is not an innocent.

      • Posted by Torger Cobus

        It is extremely easy to determine the number of legal units by checking the Planning Department or Assessor’s websites. A professional real estate agent would have surely done so.

  2. Posted by mas

    If a unit is illegally constructed, it should be removed. I know it sucks for the tenants but they are better off living in a legally constructed safe space.

    • Posted by Alai

      Oh, please. Of course! They’re better off living in a legally constructed, safe space. While we’re dreaming, they’re better off in a place with 24-hour concierge service, and why not a swimming pool?

      • Posted by mas

        Many illegal-inlaws are not up to building code. There could be gas leaks, non-fire resistance walls, overloaded electrical, etc, etc. We are talking about basic safety here, so stop with the hyperbole and get back to reality. Living in a sub-standard unit can be very dangerous because no inspection had ever taken place to make sure the unit meets safety standard. It’s at best a crapshoot whether all the parts are installed correctly. People like you have no idea how dangerous faulty electrical wires, leaking gas pipes, non-fire proof walls, can be. You gamble your safety in favor of cheap rent. But when s___ happens and they are the first to bitch about safety this and safety that and why weren’t the illegal unit properly inspected. [eyesroll].

        • Posted by Amewsed

          Walk around SF and do mass anonymous reporting to DBI about illegal units–you are certainly entitled to do so based on your stated fears about shoddy construction work. Maybe the whole block will go up in flames.

          • Posted by mas

            Do enlighten me on how to tell which house has an illegal in-law by just “walking around” and looking from the outside.

          • Posted by zig

            5 cars with paved front yard is a clue

            In some areas I wonder if it’s 50/50

          • Posted by mas

            zig, you’re not thinking. Five cars with a paved front yard? I don’t think that is possible unless we’re talking about a huge mansion in like Presidio Heights. But then it’s Presidio Heights and those cars might belong to the caterers. At best you see two cars parked in front of the house and a bunch of other cars parked on the streets that might belong to anyone. You’re speculating if it’s 50/50 because your “clue” doesn’t actually clue you in.

          • Posted by parklife

            Actually, the easiest way to tell if there is an illegal unit is to just cross check DBI and Zoning records with mailboxes. I see lots of mail slots and address listings (e.g. 35A, 35B, etc.) on SFR zoned properties. There is a tacit acceptance of this practice in SF.

        • Posted by Torger Cobus

          As an architect, I have seen some truly nightmarish inlaws with all sorts of code violations. Not to say they are all terrible, but tenants do deserve safe and code-compliant places to live.

          • Posted by Alai

            The point is not whether or not they deserve them– the point is that evicting them isn’t going to give them one. It just costs them their existing place to live (whether or not it is safe or code-compliant, I assume the tenants want to stay).

      • Posted by zig

        Deluxe apartment in the sky. They would be better off than an icky moldy in-law in the inner Parkside

  3. Posted by jack

    “Within a few days, an anonymous complaint was filed with the City,reporting a “suspected” illegal in-law…”

    Am I the only one to get the implication that the snitch = new owner?

    • Posted by sfborn

      That is what the title of this article eludes to.

    • Posted by Ken

      Did you not read the title?

      • Posted by jack

        oh. hahah…I suck. Just re-read.

    • Posted by zig

      No we all got it

  4. Posted by Landru

    What do you bet in six months or a year, there will two market rate tenants in there, and not any more legal than these.

    • Posted by jenofla

      I bet in six months or a year, the house will be remodeled and flipped as a SFH. Not uncommon in the Parkside these days.

      • Posted by Torger Cobus

        Single family dwellings fetch a better price per square foot than multi-unit buildings.

  5. Posted by sfborn

    It is true that the occupants above will no longer be protected under rent control but the owner will be required to do an eviction without cause and pay 5k per head to get them out.

    • Posted by haighter

      5k per head doesn’t seem like much considering the payouts that have gone out in other areas

    • Posted by soccermom

      If they are not under rent control, rent can be raised to a price the tenants are unwilling to pay and thus either leave or by failing to pay, show just cause for eviction. Not advocating here, just explaining. This is the same tactic that was used in Bernal last year with the rent being raised from $2,145 to $8,900 for a SFH after an illegal unit was removed.

      Mostly I don’t get it because once you pay $850K for the house and carrying costs, and what, $50K canto-style on a remodel, you own a SFH in Parkside for $925K. Is that a screaming deal these days?

      • Posted by DanRH

        One small clarification: I think rent can be raised to ‘market rate’ only. Yes, that would be debatable on exactly what that is, but I don’t believe you can raise the rent to some crazy level (100K/month!) just to try to evict.

        So whether the tenant wants to pay that new market-rate is up to them. If they won’t, then fail to pay/just cause/etc.

  6. Posted by lemon obrien


  7. Posted by boher


    • Posted by HousingWonk


      • Posted by don

        you’re all correct: smart, sociopathic, creative, and amoral.

  8. Posted by True

    Certainly possible, but this illegal unit was built without permits NOT to avoid proper building technique, but because it would break zoning restrictions. Most older buildings, commercial and residential, do not meet many modern codes. They’re generally safe, but just not held to as high a standard as new construction.

    • Posted by True

      Supposed to be reply to mas

  9. Posted by Sabbie

    As if the tenants truly believed they were living in a legal duplex, please.

  10. Posted by Some Guy

    better to live in an illegal inlaw than on the street. SF should make a rule requiring buyers to do due diligence on inlaws before the sale goes thru. Ie verify whether permitted. it’s pretty straightforward, there’s either a kitchen or there isn’t.

    • Posted by SFrentier

      Most inlaws are not legal. That’s the issue/point. Otherwise it’s a bonfide duplex.

    • Posted by Elitist Pig

      You think the buyer didn’t know that going in? They are a real estate agent, and they snitched on themselves pretty quickly. I’m pretty sure they knew exactly what they were doing…

  11. Posted by SFrentier

    Regardless if it’s self snitch or coincidental, with Kim 2.0 legislation, you can’t evict for illegal spaces now, so this plan is foiled going forwards. So just do the next best thing: negotiate for inlaw tenant to leave; destroy inlaw; tell main tenant sfh’s are not under RC. Bit trickier, but still doable. Unless your cool with having RC but also having the inlaw as a rental. Your choice.

  12. Posted by Confused renter

    If I recall correctly, the land lord of an illegal unit must return all rent collected from an illegal inlaw.

    • Posted by BayviewSF

      If that’s the case, no illegal units will exist or at least no illegal units will be rented.

      • Posted by Amewsed

        Frankly, I am surprised that the practice of calling the DBI about illegal units doesn’t happen more frequently.

        It used to be the upstairs homeowner/landlord had the most to lose (loss of rental income, renovation costs) if the illegal unit tenant threatened to report to DBI.

        Kim 2.0 legislation turned the tide, making it more costly for homeowners to have an illegal unit (impossible to convert back to SFH, lifetime tenants, increased costs to make unit legal.)

  13. Posted by BayviewSF

    With the always changing regulation, seems the best option for the new owner is to Ellis Act the house, then move into the house or sell to owner occupants.

  14. Posted by jamesjr

    Life sucks. The new owner is just following the law.

    • Posted by Dixon Hill

      If the new owner is just “following the law” why did he feel the need to file the complaint anonymously?

      Ultimately, it may not be possible to protect the two tenants in this building but I’d like to see this process become expensive enough to the new owners to serve as a lesson to other prospective buyers with sleazy intentions.

      • Posted by James

        How is this sleazy? There’s an illegal (potentially dangerous) unit that is being called out.

  15. Posted by anon2

    I don’t understand. If removing the downstairs kitchen brings the space into legal zoning compliance, then why can’t the tenants stay after that?

    There are many single-family homes around that are rented to multiple ‘roommates’, and this is perfectly legal as far as I know. Would it not be just a single family home, with one tenant occupying the upstairs area, and the other tenant down. They would lose the kitchen of course, but they would not lose whatever rent and eviction controls they may have had previously.

    Maybe a lawyer here can explain this to me…

  16. Posted by Amewsed

    I highly doubt the real estate agent is looking to become a landlord, especially in SF. Most agents buy properties to flip and make a profit, and then move on to the next project. Since selling is the goal, it makes sense to turn the property back into a single family home with additional finished rooms and bathroom downstairs (for extended family members.)

    There is nothing sleazy about working within the confines of the law. With every piece of legislation, there are unintended consequences.

  17. Posted by Tim Bracken

    Some of these comments reveal misconceptions/misunderstandings about landlord-tenant law. To clarify:

    (1) Tenants in illegal units are still entitled to Rent Control protections, including those involving just cause for eviction, as long as the usual requirements are met (e.g. when the certificate of occupancy was issued, whether it’s a multi-unit building, etc.).

    (2) When an owner seeks a permit to demolish a unit, as the owner did here, state and local law says he must give advance notice to the tenant. This is to give the tenant a chance to object to the issuance of the permit. The owner here did not do so.

    • Posted by Amewsed

      Look beyond the curing of a defective (or non-notice) issue – what will be the outcome? The City determines that no, owner cannot demolish an illegal unit by removing the kitchen so in essence, the tenant assumes the risk of any and all code and safety violations? Or yes, owner can demolish with proper notice to tenant who can/will object to the discretionary review thereby delaying the entire process?

      Neither scenario bodes well for preserving RC rental stock or creating more RC housing.

      • Posted by SFrentier

        That’s why this “it’s illegal to remove an illegal unit”, if that is actually part of Kim 2.0, is so asinine- because it’s totally unenforceable! Unless the city has an NOV on your home for an illegal inlaw, the city doesn’t know jack about your place. And if there’s no tenant in there, do whatever the hell you want with the space. Tired of sfgov overreaching, trying to scare the crap out of people. Shees.

    • Posted by SFrentier

      The only reason to bother with a permit to demolish the illegal unit is if, 1- there is an NOV on it, or 2- (at least until recently) you wanted to get rid of an RC tenant by using the permit as the mechanism.

      For those that have an illegal inlaw and its either vacant or you just buy the tenant out, it’s idiotic to get a demo permit! Just rip out the kitchen if you want to add the space to the home and get a permit to do that. Dealing with illegal inlaws is easy, unless you’re stuck with a low rent tenant in one. Then it sucks.

  18. Posted by DanRH

    The whole in-law thing is fascinating to me – and what will SF do going forward here for this. Difficult item really. Need to fix the number of unwarrented units out there. But no way can you do something that a) has all those currently-renting having to move out, or b) makes it so bad for the owner that they decide it’s way better to keep that unit off the market (ie, turning their SFH into a 2 unit subject to rent control).

    I wish they’d do something more simple, like: over the next X years, illegal in-laws will slowly become more like ‘condo’s (ie, rent can be raised to market-level, but still some rent control laws allowed). This way the owner doesn’t mind seeing their illegal unit become legal (they can charge market rate, but they need to make them safer / improve them); tenants would have X years to plan for a coming ‘market rate adjustment’ of their unit and can plan better (either plan to pay market rate or plan to move out).

    • Posted by SFrentier

      Basically illegal inlaws are a negative to SFH’s (making them duplexes and under RC.). But they can be great for 2+ unit buildings (as they’re on RC anyways.). There are now all kinds of ways to legalize these inlaws. If it pays off for an owner to do so, they get to add a unit and legal square feet to their prop = chaa-ching. So how about encouraging owners to do so by the city being flexible on minimum requirements (like not forcing to,add a sprinkler system when going for 2 to 3 units, which is currently the case.). Practically will win the day here. But this being sfgov, good luck with that.

  19. Posted by Hitman

    Filing that trick in the memory bank! I love it.

  20. Posted by Michael

    Someone please clarify the risk of a owner who has a illegal inlaw and wants to convert that inlaw to a legal unit…..I have understood that the landlord would be liable in the courts for all back rent plus damages to the renter of that unit whether they understood the unit was warranted or not……is this so?
    What is the mechanism here in SF?

    • Posted by BayviewSF

      Michael, the owner would be a fool to convert a legal single family home to a legal duplex if the house was built before 1979. A duplex will be under rent control and the market value will drop compare with a single family house. Not to mention the tenant occupation.

      • Posted by Alai

        I’d read, somewhere, that a legal single family home that was converted to a duplex would be considered a “new unit”, and so post-1979.

  21. Posted by Steven

    This is a BRILLIANT idea! Kudos to the owner for figuring out how to take control of the property that is rightfully theirs.

  22. Posted by 4th Gen SF'er

    Exactly, kudos to the owners. Because who wants to go through the whole eviction mess so many OWNERS are going through. Like the gay google attorney that got sick from this mess and passed away.

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