Fraudulent Plans, Fines and Penalties in San FranciscoApril 9, 2018
A special meeting between San Francisco’s Planning and Building Inspection Commissions is being convened this week. The topics of discussion: How demolitions in San Francisco are defined; the rise of fraudulent building plans designed to skirt San Francisco’s Planning Code and/or the Planning Department’s approval process; and the potential fines and penalties that the agencies may assess.
We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.
Comments from Plugged-In Readers
Well it’s about time!
Seriously. This has been happening for decades. Thank goodness they’re having a meeting about it!
And nothing will come of it.
Hopefully they will tackle the “we saved a wall so it’s not a demolition” game.
One way to address this is to prorate a project to determine where it falls on the continuous spectrum of “total demo and rebuild” vs. “minor remodel”.
For example if the old house is torn down except for a 4′ length of wall then it would be considered 98% demo, 2% remodel and effectively be permitted as a demo/rebuild.
Was there any mention of the subject of NIMBY complaints couched in language used solely to obstruct, when the real point is that neighbors simply don’t want the noise and mess on their street? Enforcing harsh monetary fines for, let’s say, an erroneous “exceeding the scope of permit” complaint? I don’t deny that fraudulent building plans are a problem. But so is the rampant abuse of the complaint system.
First, the obligatory comment – Don’t blame the player.
As a builder, if I know that the fines, penalties, etc. for going beyond the scope of the permit are much, much lower than the increase in value that can be obtained by exceeding the scope of the permit, I would do that every single time.
The most recent example I have is 125 Crown Terrace. This was permitted as a remodel, but the existing home “collapsed” in 2013 during the remodel. For those that care, there were numerous Socketsite stories about this.
There a a number of more recent examples that we’ve covered, including the effective demolition of the modernist home at 49 Hopkins Avenue and the “remodeling” of 655 Alvarado as pictured above.
Anyone who has had to deal with city depts. while doing major home renovations can empathize mightily with those who try to avoid it. The building and electrical codes are a maze of protectionist (aka good luck if you want to get a less expensive electrician or plumber from the east bay to do your work – SF code is designed to create a high barrier of entry for competition) nuance, and simple things like rebuilding a deck or porch can carry onerous and wildly expensive and unneeded steps, like having to produce architectural plans of an entire house just to “replace in kind” and existing porch. Its as though they want you to be priced out of repairs and renovation so that you will simply sell and walk away, which resets the tax base of the property and benefits the city’s revenue stream. Whatever the motives of the city in making things so difficult, the result — that only the rich can afford not just to live here, but to improve their residence in the process — is indisputable.
Agreed. The SF City permit process is designed to favor the ‘connected’ . It’s frankly a destructive Darwinistic social policy. Punishment for the bad players – people like Mel Murphy or developers of the Millenium Tower – is far too rare.
Instead the City seems to focused on extorting fees and fines from small property owners by using the most obtuse unavigatable process possible.
Arbitrariness and inconsistency has characterized my experience. In one instance, we replaced back external staircase as a homeowner, permitted etc. final inspection was a joke–inspector barely looked at the finished structure. We were completely up to speed. But is everyone else? We should at least get some approximation of our money’s worth, and reasonable confidence in safety of new construction.
In other instance, inspector was needlessly strict, borderline obstructionist regarding basic interior lighting as part of a final on a remodel project.
Anecdotal I know, but wouldn’t be surprised if everyone who’s dealt with building dept. has similar experience.
While I agree with “unlivable” about the byzantine process for a renovation, the city still has a real problem with contractors going beyond permits or filing fraudulent plans for vacant flips.
I witnessed it on my street – contractor filed false plans to increase square footage of an empty house, to avoid triggering neighbor notification. The neighbors wouldn’t have opposed the expansion, but then he was a jerk and pulled down a fence and downspout shared with a neighbor and treated them like crap. We complained to Building Inspection with photo evidence that he had lied on the plans, and pointed out that more than half of the 40 projects he had done in the previous 2 years had violations for work beyond the permit. They did nothing.
Scofflaws like this cheat the city of permit fees, and cheat neighbors and future buyers of due process. But I can’t imagine the Building Inspection Commission or Planning doing anything about this – they are totally captured by the contractors.
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