Speaking of potential housing related ballot measures and legislative bargaining chips, Supervisor Mark Farrell has submitted the paperwork for an initiative to allow more in-law units to be added to buildings throughout San Francisco.

Under the proposed Accessory Dwelling Units measure, existing buildings with four dwelling units or less would be allowed one in-law unit. An unlimited number of in-law units would be permitted within the existing envelope of buildings with five units or more. And new buildings with five units or less would be allowed to add an in-law unit to their plans.

New in-law units would not be allowed to be added to buildings from which a tenant had been removed by way of either an Ellis Act or Owner Move In eviction in the past 5 to 10 years. And the new units would be prohibited from ever being registered for use as short-term rentals or (legally) airbnb’d.

The initiative, which could very well be abandoned prior to being printed on the November ballot, is intended to put pressure on the passage of a mirror legislative ordinance to allow more in-laws which was drafted by Supervisor Farrell and is competing with a more restrictive in-law ordinance sponsored by Supervisor Aaron Peskin.

22 thoughts on “Initiative to Allow More In-Laws in San Francisco”
  1. Adu’s will nearly always mean the deletion of ground level parking spaces.

    Parking is encompassed under rent control.

    So, expect to see one or two crazy stories about parking space buyouts. (Quick lets regulate parking space buyouts!)

    Otherwise, if Ellis and OMIs are off the table, this measure will do roughly squat to add housing to San Francisco.

    1. Let’s hope that if the ADU includes the deletion of ground level parking it also means the deletion of its private curb cut. 🙂

    2. Nearly always is too equivocal. In all of my properties with garages underneath, the garages only take up half or less of the basement. There is still plenty of room in the back of the building for an in-law. Many sunset/richmond in-laws are built like this.

      1. If you can get the fire department to support a design that preserves the garage space then good on you.

        I have a hard time believing this new measure will really make any difference.

  2. If the good supervisors’ juniors reading this want to pass effective legislation, they should provide landlords an explicit right to “buy back” parking spaces at X fixed price ($15k?) per space, subject to rent increase equivalent rates, from tenants. Otherwise that 12 year old civic used thrice weekly will prevent new housing until the civic owner ends his tenancy. Good luck if there are three civics.

  3. But in the end, people don’t like the idea of parking Being eliminated, and if people figure out that’s what adu’s mean, then Peskin will probably win the day.

  4. The link in the article is to the AHBP – not to any program from Peskin for ADUs. So maybe a refresher about what Peskin has in mind that’s different from Farrell’s.

    I take it both prohibit STRs. And both would make the new units rent controlled.

    Would either one allow bldgs that are already condos to add an additional unit – and if so would that invoke an additional parcel, or would it just allow expansion of an already entitled parcel to bulk out (become an “in-law” in the classic sense)?

    1. It’s been a constant lament of tenant activists that “there’s no new Rent Controlled housing being created” re: their efforts to confront Ellis/OMI/RMI/Buy-outs/TICs etc. However, we saw with the Weiner/Christiansen legis that new RC units were in fact created; which just hollows out the cries of “wolf”, at least a bit.

      The fact that they could allow a SFH to add a dwelling unit, which would make it a ‘duplex’ — and thus be allowed an auto Condo Conversion — but they instead prohibit such, must answer your question.

    2. I know that the rent control ordinance does apply even to unwarranted units, but I don’t know if it applies to unwarranted units that are in (otherwise) single family homes.

      Any lawyers here could clarify?

  5. Single family homes are exempt from rent control. Having an illegal (or legal) in-law unit in your single family home makes both “units” subject to rent control. Also, it would be virtually impossible to convert the property back into a single family home because you are seeking to merge two rent controlled dwelling units. Resale value would probably be less than the original single family home status due to these restrictions.

    Under different, more logical circumstances it would make sense to own two units in a single family home — owner can live in one and rent out the other or both units can be rented out for rental income. However, given the City’s desire to expand its rent control reach, I don’t see this initiative as creating any incentive for the single family home owner to either create a new in-law unit or legalize an existing one.

  6. This won’t have much effect on existing sfh’s, as they will become legal 2 unit bldgs and thus subject to RC. Most homeowners won’t make that trade off. And I’m sure that the added inlaw will not be allowed condo conversion, so it takes that perk away.

    While this could be nice for 2+ unit bldgs (already subject to RC), the kink here is that duplexes will go from R3 to R2 occupancy codes, and you’ll need to add sprinklers (install cost $30-50k, plus major PITA), at least for the new unit being added. Duplexes are the predominant format of multi unit buildings in the city, so those get marginalized. 3+ unit buildings don’t have this issue, but if they will have 4 levels of occupancy, sprinkler requirement rears its ugly head again!

    Overall all the (numerous) new in law legalization initiatives will only make sense to a few building owners, A- not encumbered by an existing RC tenant and B- wiling and able to pay the costs for code upgrades, sprinklers, etc. It’ll be an economic calculation and one of motivation on the owners end. Plenty of existing owners won’t want to bother, even if it adds value and income to their property.

    At the end of the day I predict that all these initiatives collectively at best will add a few hundred (not thousands) of “new” units over the next 5 years. Personally I plan on using these programs on a few of my properties, because I like the challenge and it gives me something to do. Plus I get to feel good about myself for helping to solve SF’s housing shortage (no irony there 😉

    1. this won’t/doesn’t work for 2 unit buildings either, unless they are already condo’d. sprinklers etc are not the only costs here. a third unit subjects you to the condo lottery and eliminates fast tracking. 2 unit buildings sell at a price /sq. ft. premium to multi-units as they have the ability to be TIC’d for one year and then become condos. the only condo conversions left in the city.

      we own a 2 unit that had an illegal 3rd (all vacant when we purchased) and the first thing we did was demo the unwarranted and un-recorded unit. now we have a 3 car garage and 750 sq ft of storage but plan on eventually expanding back.

      barring legislation that acknowledges that this as new construction which would not be subject to rent control, and would not effect our potential to go condo, this addition will be to the lower existing unit which will be 2500 sq feet post remodel with 4 bedrooms and 4 baths. yes, more “luxury housing”.

      if the city government truly wanted more density and more new in-laws, it would permit them to be market rate when they are newly built and close the rules that change a SFH to a duplex, grandfather duplexes that become triplexes for fasttrack condo conversion, and reinstate and simply condo conversion (not make it impossible).

      this helps 3+ units that have unused common or storage space, need foundation work and/or soft-story retrofits but little else.

  7. Does anyone know if it will allow for more building footprint on a lot? For example, building a tiny home on an extra long 125ft parcel?

    1. I think the current law only allows for building envelope build out. Enlarging beyond the building envelope probably requires another set of bureaucratic hoops to jump through. You can email the SF Building Department to confirm what you can build on your specific site. They will do a free preliminary research for you.

  8. I agree with many of the posters here. Only the foolish or ignorant would add an in-law if rent control followed. For the foreseeable future –at least a decade, perhaps a generation– single family homes will carry the highest value in San Francisco. When we have a rational city government, things may be different. For now: buy a single family home and keep it that way. If you own a building used as a SFH but legally something else, do not change back.

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