CFAH

As proposed by Supervisor Ronen, individuals, agents and entities that have a history of circumventing and abusing the City’s permitting process – such as working without a permit; misrepresenting the existing conditions of a property in order to facilitate the approval of a permit; or working beyond the scope of a permit that has been secured – would be placed on an “Expanded Compliance Control List.”

Three or more permit infractions within a rolling period of 18-months would land an individual, agent or entity on The List for an initial period of 5 years, with a 5-year extension upon any subsequent violations.

Listees would be reported to all applicable licensing boards or regulatory agencies. And if a project or job is either sponsored by or associated with an individual, agent or entity on the Expanded Compliance Control List, any requested permits would be subject to additional review and inspection, when requested, when approved and after the job is completed.

We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by Ray

    Does anyone have any idea if this would be at all effective? It seems like it would be trivially easy to work around – set up a new LLC or request permits in the name of a partner or relative, for instance. I’m not a scofflaw so I’m sure a dedicated mind could think of more.

    • Posted by 1031 Exchange

      I think the catch all would be an individual or agent representing the entity. Even if it’s an LLC getting a permit as an owner, that owner/representative would be associated with it I believe. But in most cases it would be the contractor or architect that pulls the permits which would be pretty impactful to them long-term as they regularly pull permits.

      This is probably a solution worth trying to go after some of the more publicized flips where they did work out of scope of a permit to avoid permit fees or further review. However it’s seems pretty well known within contractor circles that some inspectors are willing to turn a blind eye to these things or just rubber stamp inspections because of connections, etc.

      DBI should focus on cleaning house first, but this is a good next step.

  2. Posted by Brahma (incensed renter)

    The Board of Supervisors should have done this ten years ago, and if they had, we wouldn’t be in the situation where we are today, with all of these people from elsewhere arriving with dollar signs flashing in their eyes and a “gold rush” mentality dominating their thinking, leading them to believe that they can just flout the rules, make a lot of money in a short amount of time and then flee with it to Texas or Florida before they get caught.

    • Posted by soccermom

      “The immigrants. Let’s go after the immigrants.” You seem proud, boy.

      • Posted by Notcom

        “Migrants”: “immigrants” are people from another country … unless you’re trying to make an editorial statement about the South.

  3. Posted by Ohone Californio

    This is great. Now do frivolous DBI complaint lodgers. Something like a $500 fine for the first complaint without merit, $5000 for the second, and a $50,000 fine for the third, along with a total ban.

    • Posted by AstrosFan

      DBI is the only recourse tenants have in this city. Seems like a slippery slope

      • Posted by Ohlone Californio

        Something has to be done. People anonymously complain about permit scopes all the time just because they don’t like noise. Some people in some neighborhoods are self-styled permit scope vigilantes and just plain old do it because they imagine themselves public servants.

        I kid you not. DBI knows who these bad actors are. There’s one or two in every neighborhood, and they know precisely who they are. I’m not talking about legit complaints or legit mistakes. I’m talking about serial abusers.

        Why is there not a protection against this abuse?

  4. Posted by ExSFLandlord

    The purpose of hiring a good lawyer and accountant is to find a way around legislation and regulations. Any questions?

    • Posted by Chris

      I don’t think accountants gave much to do with building permits. And, lawyers can represent you after the fact if you get in legal trouble. But, if you are required to get a permit to do construction, it is what it is. Of course, people can and do try to engage in illicit conduct, but if they get caught, they need to face the music.

  5. Posted by Peter Williams

    Maybe less people would choose to do work without permits if it didn’t take 4 months just to submit an over the counter permit. Maybe dbi could do something about that first.

    • Posted by Sue Yu

      Agreed. What takes 1 day in other states takes 5 months currently in SF. DBI should be held accountable for significant increase in processing a permit. One would think they‘d be faster during a pandemic but no.

      I’m no scofflaw either, we have commercial clients who decide to forgo TI work due to the lengthy time it takes to get a permit i.e. they don’t build, or they only chose the scope that doesn’t require a permit (which is next to nothing).

      With so may businesses changing leases, SF really has to step up the processing to keep design & building industries alive.

      • Posted by Pablito

        DBI has been on the take long before I got my first permit in 1986. Can’t imagine a City where that’s not the case. It’s kind of like sour dough bread, crab at Fisherman’s wharf, and cable cars.

        Herb caen would say Supervisor Ronen has about as much of a chance of getting rid of it as he does the summer fog.

    • Posted by katdip

      That’s BS. I know from personal experience one flipper who had 10-15 projects going per year, had no trouble getting over the counter permits. Why? Because he routinely doctored the existing conditions plans and understated the work required, and avoided doing neighbor notications. Nearly half his projects had NOVs for work beyond permit, even though DBI was covering for him. I had a supervisor at DBI tell me with a straight face that a brand new concrete slab and framing was “existing”, even though the rest of the structure was 100 years old! When we brought It up to the permit appeals board, they let him file new plans and get a revised permit within a week. DBI is rotten to the core and won’t change unless forced.

  6. Posted by Chris

    The standards are pretty low to file a DBI complaint. And, trying to penalize someone for exercising a right is generally something that would be subject to legal challenge, which would be successful. And, your fee escalation schedule is wishful nonsense.

    It is possible to craft a narrow ordinance fining someone for intentionally filing a false complaint (i.e. a complaint that knowingly and substantially misrepresents the facts) with malicious intent. But, merely “frivolous” complaints are just a minor nuisance that has to be accepted.

  7. Posted by AstrosFan

    This seems like it would realistically be geared towards larger property owners and REITs given how frequently they renovate units. Normal people don’t usually get 3 permits in an 18-month period

    • Posted by Brahma (incensed renter)

      Flippers do. And this is a much-needed corrective to the out-of-control law breaking behavior by a subset of flippers, probably not recently but certainly over the past two decades. No one who observes the law and abides by the rules will be hurt by this.

      • Posted by Cave Dweller

        Flippers are simply hedging against inflation. Its unreasonable to find fault with flippers in the current economic climate where the foundation has turned suspect.

        • Posted by Cave Dweller

          Current as in — last 20 years of inflationary boom

  8. Posted by SFRealist

    Worth noting that any mayor for the last 30 years could have done something about this. None of them did.

  9. Posted by Cave Dweller

    Utter tosh. Lip service.

    Almost all of the San Francisco home pricing story is built on the edifice of abuse by the permitting authorities.

    Time delay increases cost of building which is reflected in the price of final product which lends itself to higher assessment which feeds the property tax revenues. A realized artifact of Prop 13. Egging on the NIMBYs, encouraging neighborhood “mayors” under the guise of liberal+progressive politics, obvious abuse of property owners by way of entertaining complaints (in addition to delays) is also simply this.

    Hodlers like to say .. “but its the scarcity!!!!”

    • Posted by two beers

      “Almost all of the San Francisco home pricing story is built on the edifice of abuse by the permitting authorities.”

      A much bigger reason for the high building costs (as opposed to “taxes! regulations! liberals! homeless! poop!”) are the insane property acquisition costs, the consequence of several decades of historically-loose monetary policy that has fueled and rewarded asset speculation in an otherwise historically low-yield environment.

      Other reasons are the high wages that must be paid to induce displaced workers who have been gentrified to the Central Valley to make the grueling commute; and the high costs of materials and storage, and contractor/trades office and shop space, all of which soared because most of the PDR space that formerly hosted those activities is now in places like Hayward and beyond.

      “You people” gentrified the living hell out of SF, driving prices through the roof (to your benefit), so please, no crocodile tears about the high cost of building in SF which is the direct and predictable outcome of the gentrification you unleashed.

      • Posted by Cave Dweller

        Property acquisition costs are relative. But its the time cost, permitting overhead and added legislation that are the unknown and can vary from project to project. This increases carrying costs and by extension shuts out/limits the little guys with shallow pockets from taking risk. The net of it is, output is restricted which further contributes to added costs on top of inflation. The search for yield in an inflationary boom is being artificially limited to those players who have deep pockets (or can borrow). The little guys end up with flipping or riding the wave as a hedge against inflation. The little guys who make it out are those who either have low entry cost or those who have liquid source because of investments or employment elsewhere.

        Even these little guys end up getting the raw deal if they end up on the wrong side of the trade timing wise — we saw this post 2008 crash. And many listings on this very site (in the pandemic era) are evidence of that. Gentrification happened because the little guys cashed out seeing that as an opportunity to make wealth elsewhere. Can’t blame them.

        If people have to make grueling commute from wherever to SF, the question is “why? what happened to upgrading the transport capacity and performance?” All we get is a lot of jaw flapping about green energy while literally nothing of note has been accomplished in terms of improving the current transportation situation.

        What I think went wrong is lack or failure of long-term urban planning and development of urban transport.
        You can directly attribute these failures to uni-party politics of state and local governments.

  10. Posted by Ben Tend

    Some cities actually cooperate w/customers. The building dept in Portland is 180 diff than SF.

  11. Posted by Bayview_Rising

    How about if DBI actually inspect properties as they’re supposed to? I’ve spent ~$250k (~15% of purchase price) to remedy all kinds of construction defects that a competent inspector should have noticed. But since DBI inspections are rubber stamps, they didn’t catch any of the scofflaw flipper’s defects – even the egregious ones. F U, DBI.

    • Posted by John K.

      Why didn’t your own inspector catch these items ? What kind of arrangement was in place such that you purchased a house/unit without an inspection ?

      Genuinely curious …

  12. Posted by Indexing Shiller

    Do we know if Dawson-Clinton of the infamous 3847-3849 18th St. gifted the city $250,000 in lieu of adding the third unit?

  13. Posted by redseca2

    More than 25 years ago I was involved on the Architect side on a very major renovation of a historic SF hotel, major as into 9 figures cost. We, the Architects became the brunt of the city’s payback for a long history of the hotel doing any and all sorts of renovations and remodels without ever bothering about any silly City permits. Every plan document and inspection became a nightmare as we were considered less than thieves although this was our firms first and only work for the hotel.

    • Posted by Notcom

      I believe I have a spoon from said hotel (the waiter said a menu would be too disruptive as a souvenir as they still had more meals to serve).

      But anyway, they did a swell job…the 9 figures were well spent.

  14. Posted by AJ

    Maybe the city should recognize that the problem is onerous regulation.

    • Posted by Brahma (incensed renter)

      The problem, of course, is that for the flippers, developers, many fly-by-night contractors and other hangers-on in the real estate “game” who arrive here with dollar signs in their eyes, any regulation at all is “onerous” because it gets in the way of them making money. That’s how you get the regulations. That’s how you get the heightened regulations. They are a response to people breaking the existing rules.

      When you have over a certain number of people whose sole reason for being here is to make money and then leave with it as soon as possible, they decide that rules don’t apply to them, so they do lots of things like unpermitted work, etc. and then the city cracks down in response and makes more work subject to permit, but of course it doesn’t have more revenue overnight to fund more inspectors or staff in DBI, so both scofflaws and honest builders get slowed down. Then people who are focused on making money say that the process is “too slow” and the regulations are onerous and the people at DBI are corrupt and “on the take” which to them justifies getting a permit to do some work and then going beyond the scope of those permits in order to meet their goals which they say The City is preventing. Which in turn prompts more crack downs like the one proposed by Supervisor Ronen. Lather, rinse repeat.

      • Posted by Cave_Dweller

        Its the kind of similar ongoing idiocy at SFUSD or the current general state of administration we are currently witness to. Though, in this case the conversation is filtered and cast in terms of “greedy developer/flipper” and therefore doesn’t elicit similar levels of indignant reactions. But essentially similar idiocratic bureaucracy that is unwilling to be responsible towards its citizens and more than willing to shift the blame elsewhere — onto the very citizens themselves.

        How convenient to blame the “greedy” plebs when the problem lies with inefficiency, wasteful and frankly exploitative government administration

      • Posted by Ohlone Californio

        Where do you get weakly reasoned, one note, ideas from? Try going onto Nextdoor some time and read about the tribulations of your fellow, non-contractor, non-flipper, San Franciscans who are merely trying to redo a kitchen or build a deck or put a planter on the street sometime. It might be illuminating.

        This city has a Byzantine permitting system, cobbled together over many years, in response to countless issues political, bureaucratic, environmental, and it’s very much not merely down to the time and resources suck caused by scofflaws.

        • Posted by katdip

          that proves the point that DBI is corrupt, not just hidebound by complex regs.Frequent flyers and expedited flippers get permits in no time, and face almost no consequences if they get caught deliberately lying. But woe to the uninitiated, unconnected, or simply honest, since they get the full weight of DBI incompetence.

          • Posted by Ohlone Californio

            Who gets permits in no time these days?

            I don’t know where you guys get your information from. But I feel as if it’s somewhere other than this plane of reality.

            Are you tapped into Rafael Mandelman’s fevered subconscious? Where the 5000 ft “Monster Homes” that were oh-so-easy to entitle run amok? Untethered from their foundations, and destroying the good NIMBYs of Noe Valley and Glen Park under their monstrous stucco and ipe-clad manacles?

  15. Posted by katdip

    Yes, permitting and regs are more onerous in SF, but that’s on the BoS and Planning Commission. DBIs dysfunction is of its own making, hip deep in cronyism and corruption. Lots of other cities have complex regs and still manage to have competent plan checkers and inspection services. This legislation alone won’t solve all problems, but it may help weed out some of the most egregious permit scofflaws. It’s very hard to hold them accountable otherwise.

    You can search the DBI permit database for an address or an agent, but you can’t search complaints in a single place. You have to click through each permit to see if there is a complaint attached to it. Only by doing so did I find a nuisance flipper had NOVs for work beyond permit at almost 50% of his projects over two years.

    • Posted by Cave Dweller

      Byzantine incompetence by design hidden under the moral certitude veneer of “regulations against the profiteers”

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