CFAH

Purchased as a vacant two-unit building for $690,000 in September of 2001, a permit to remodel the kitchen on the main/second floor of the rather lovely Victorian at 1016 Pierce Street was requested and approved in 2010. A bathroom remodel was permitted in 2011. And in 2014, an over the counter permit to convert the basement/ground floor of the two-unit building into 425 square feet of habitable space, which was to be internally connected to the second floor unit, while the third floor unit was to remain untouched, was approved and completed.

But in 2019, following an anonymous complaint as to a potential illegal dwelling unit merger (DUM) having past occurred, an inspection revealed that the original two units on the second and third floors of the building had, in fact, been merged into a single 2,045-square-foot home and the new ground floor rooms, which were built with a separate entrance around the side of the home, were being used as an unpermitted short-term rental (which is likely what triggered the complaint).

From the City’s Notice of Violation issued to the owners of 1016 Pierce Street in October of 2019:

Our records indicate that the subject property is currently authorized as a two-family dwelling designed as two full floor flats. The violation pertains to the Residential Merger of these two flats into a single-family dwelling unit without the benefit of a Conditional Use Authorization, as required by Planning Code Section 317(c)(1).

Pursuant to Planning Code Section 317(b)(7), a “Residential Merger” shall mean the combining of two or more Residential or Unauthorized Units, resulting in a decrease in the number of Residential Units and Unauthorized Units within a building, or the enlargement of one or more existing units while substantially reducing the size of others by more than 25% of their original floor area, even if the number of units is not reduced. The merging of the two units has resulted in the loss of one independent dwelling unit, which constitutes as a violation of the Planning Code.

Plans to retroactively legalize the unpermitted merger of the two full-floor flats by converting the 425-square-foot basement “addition” into an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU), thereby restoring the two-unit nature of the building, were subsequently drawn and an application to secure a Conditional Use Authorization for the plan was submitted to Planning, the hearing for which is scheduled for this afternoon.

From the Planning Department’s recommendation to the Commission that will decide:

The Department finds that the Project is, on balance, inconsistent with the Objectives and Policies of the General Plan. The project removes a naturally affordable dwelling unit and does not maximize allowable residential density of the subject property in a time when San Francisco is facing a severe housing shortage. The proposed new studio ADU has no access to conforming open space and has limited access to light and air. The Department does not find the project to be necessary, desirable, and compatible with the surrounding neighborhood, and Vicinity.

And if the Commissioners agree, the building owners would be required to restore the top two floors of the building into two separate dwelling units, after which permission to add a third unit to the two-unit building could be sought. We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by Notcom

    Rather lovely?? Why the qualifier??
    (Or perhaps it's an arch reference to "Victorian"s etymology… In which case "Well done, old chap!")

  2. Posted by aha

    this is exact kind of scofflaw nonsense that needs to be firmly cracked down on. This is how all the reasonable middle class flats are steadily being eliminated in the city by people with too much money who want a big house. If you want a big single family house, don’t buy a two unit building. Go guy a single family house. Throw the book at them and make them restore the original two units so that the top unit is no smaller and independent.

  3. Posted by Panhandle Pro

    The owners got greedy. Build an illegal in-law unit, or merge two units into one SFH, but not both! Or, treat your neighbors like kings so they never rat you out. Poor execution.

  4. Posted by Dan

    This case highlights a couple of unfortunate realities in this town – old housing stock that’s roundabout unattractive to live in when your “unit” separates you from your neighbors with thin walls and creaky floorboards. It stands to reason this may have driven the DUM conversion second to third floor. (Has the “average” neighbor become more inconsiderate since the times when the house was built?)
    The other piece is how roundabout unattractive if not toxic it is to be a landlord in this town. Again, it stands to reason this may have driven the basement short term rental situation.

    • Posted by Chris

      The issue is the owner’s should have simply got the proper permit to merge the units–it would have taken time and been more costly, so they decided to sneak around and they got caught. That is the only problem here. Contrary to some, I have no issue with people legally merging units by following the proper approval process and paying whatever fees they need to pay—people should be able to reasonably use their private property as they see fit, and the city should use some of the billions of tax dollars it collects to build new affordable housing or purchase existing units as permanent affordable housing, rather engaging in back-door maneuvers to try to artificially restrict housing options. So, the moral of the story is to follow the rules, or lobby to have them changed if they are truly unfair or nonsensical, but do not just break the law because it is the easier thing to do.

      • Posted by DAA

        For the reasons Dan speculates these owners did, I daydream of buying the unit above me and merging the two (the “average” neighbor has not become less considerate, but the invention of things like televisions and subwoofers have made sharing walls and floors more difficult) BUT…
        Merging units is a non-starter in SF— and for units considered reasonably priced, never gonna happen. I accept that and if I had the capital I’d just be hunting for a SFH. Sounds like they pulled it off until they got cocky and pissed off the neighbors by running an Air BnB out of their basement.

      • Posted by Charlie in SF

        Methinks you’ve not spent a lot of time at the planning counter.
        Unit mergers are generally not allowed. Yes I know about the Peskins, but they are special people.

  5. Posted by developer

    Is this Alison Collins’ house?

    • Posted by soccermom

      Yes. When she used that offensive term on twitter she was just equating a racial group to the planning department.

      • Posted by EBGuy

        Virginia really spooked childless Ess Eff politicians. First to be thrown under the bus by state Sen. Wiener and then have Mayor Breed step on the gas…

      • Posted by Ohlone Californio

        Similar scenario, but not the same property.

  6. Posted by Hayes at work

    I thought that as long as there were two kitchens and a door that can be closed, this was considered two units. That’s explicitly been DBI’s perspective when it came to Aaron Peskin and Allison Collins illegal DUMs.

    • Posted by Charlie in SF

      Silly commentator, those laws do not apply to our City Family, like Congress being exempt for paying social security for their staffers–these pesky laws only apply the little people who pay taxes.

  7. Posted by Code Guy

    As long as the remodels meet code and do not pose life safety issues, then homeowners should be able to do what they want. Planning should concentrate on multifamily housing efforts, not slap hands of folks that have the means to create more living space for themselves.

    • Posted by Backtotheburbs

      So, in your world what would prevent someone of means from buying an apartment building or skyscraper and converting to single household? All of SF could just be a few hundred households?

      You are also ignoring the fact that in SF multi family can be cheaper especially with tenants. Which generates these nasty real estate power plays which ruin people’s lives and corrode communities.

      • Posted by Code Guy

        “Devils advocate….What would prevent a single family being converted to high rise?”

        Zoning my friend, take a look at how the Planning Code actually works.

  8. Posted by unlivablecity

    Isn’t it funny how city departments and our elected officials regularly single out some small time sap homeowner or business or relatively low-level “issue” with reams of verbiage rivaling the hours-long speeches of autocrats, while in the meantime the city is ruined by out of control criminal behavior, filth, failed services and broken promises. It’s like a waiter serving up a meal of ptomaine poisoned rotted food but spending hours asking over and over “don’t you love this wine?!”

  9. Posted by soccermom

    The Ezra Klein podcast rerun last week “How Blue Cities Became So Outrageously Unaffordable” is a more-nuanced-than-usual discussion of the challenges of this types of situation. Regardless of whether you think of the owners as scoffflaws or victims of ninny neighbors and silly rules, the show is worth a listen.

    • Posted by aha

      the merger of units like these is contributing in the negative direction to the unafforability of the city. I’m in no way suggesting that it is unit mergers that are the primary source of our housing crisis, lack of supply is the overall problem. However no matter how you slice it, mergers are reducing the supply, and most importantly reducing the supply of reasonably priced older flats that are the bread and butter of what middle income household could rent or purchase in favor of creating yet another large SFH that a very small slice of the populace can afford.

      I come back to: if you want a large SFH, go buy one. There is no need to cannibalize our existing stock of older small multifamily buildings.

      It’s a shame an actual family that was long living on the property got caught and is paying the cost, but if there weren’t flippers and developers out there running rampant taking modest duplexes and doing all sorts of unacceptable and unpermitted things to convert them into uber luxe SFHs, then this family wouldn’t be in the position they were and would be judged more favorably.

      It’s amazing how often posts on Socketsite highlight multi-unit properties that have been illegally gutted and converted into a SFH and whose listings boast “Legally a 2-unit building but we’re selling it as a single family residence” with ‘bonus rooms’ that have clearly been illegally merged with the units.

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