Purchased as a little two-unit building at the peak of Potrero Hill for $720,000 in February of 2012, 882-888 Carolina Street was subsequently expanded and remodeled with permits for a two-unit project that were secured in 2014.

While a number of complaints alleging “work beyond the scope” of the approved permits for the project were received by the City during construction, San Francisco’s Department of Building Inspection (DBI) closed/cleared the complaints, with inspectors having reported “all work according to [the approved] plans” on their project reports.

The redevelopment of 882-888 Carolina passed final inspections in 2016 and sold for $3.7 million in early 2017, with an oddly located “closet” in the lower-level unit. And in January of 2018, the property then quietly resold off-market, at the “seller’s request,” for $3.8 million, having presented as a four-bedroom home with two entrances and a central staircase that now ran from the home’s top floor to its “garden level,” through the aforementioned “closet.”

The property returned to the market this past September listed as a four-bedroom home, at which point a new complaint was received by the City, fingering an unpermitted Dwelling Unit Merger (DUM) of 882 and 888 Carolina Street. And this time around, a DBI inspection revealed what the previous off-market sale (and newly listed floor plan) had privately highlighted.

A formal Notice of Violation for the unpermitted merger of the two units was issued by the City in October. And plans to “permanently” infill the unpermitted staircase connection from the home’s second floor to its garden level were drawn and permits requested. But if the plans to correct the unpermitted dwelling unit merger are approved as drafted, the lower-level staircase between the two units would remain hidden behind the rebuilt “closet wall” and below the infill flooring on the second floor, as the property appeared when inspected back in 2016.

At the same time, a pending sale of the “four-bedroom home” has been removed from the MLS. We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.

24 thoughts on “Pages From the Down-Low Merger Playbook and Result(s)”
  1. “Fingering” indeed.

    Who cares? This was two units, now it’s a primary with an attached JADU. Still two units. Still two kitchens. Still space for two households, possibly related. Sound and fury, signifying nothing except nosy neighbors.

    1. The people who play by the rules and go about their business honestly care. If you want to live in a city where you can do whatever you want with no repercussions because you get ego gratification from flouting the law, then Celaya, a city in the central state of Guanajuato, is awaiting you with open arms. You are free to relocate there and pursue your dreams of avarice.

      1. Plenty of people who played by the rules don’t have the knowledge base to comprehend that the people they think they’re fingering are also playing by the rules. So they report them and they DR them and the entire system slows. School fees that would otherwise be paid sit in limbo. Plans are abandoned. Do not pretend as if this the over-democratization of SF’s DBI complaint system is not a rampant problem. It is, and the solution is not further legislation.

        The solution is to comply to existing code and to hire Building and Planning Dept officiants who are fully conversant with existing code and its implementation without needing to constantly defer. And individual neighbors who report any discretionary review or complain in error need to start seeing fines, and they need to start losing their ability to utilize the complaint system.

        I am not referring to this particular property. I am making a general statement with regard to your “play by the rules” take.

        1. I couldn’t agree more. When inspectors are actually capable to inspecting properties is when this ends. When they can tell a vinyl window from a wood window, this ends. When they know the difference between a solid, iron gas line and a yellow poly pipe, this ends. Until we can get a modicum of competency in that office (it’s certainly not a function of being under-funded), we’re doomed to repeat this nonsense ad nauseum. And yes, fine those who abuse the complaint system – certainly DBI knows how to charge excessive fees for substandard work.

      2. Actually, when I am in the mood to flout the law, what I do is go down to the ‘loin and deal some Fentanyl, then I drop a deuce at the curb, and then, feeling relieved, wander in to Wallgreens with my pants around my ankles picking out lots of my favorite snacks for free yo and then jabber aggressively at tourists so that they will never come back to San Francisco.

        Thank you for refocusing the conversation on important issues like two connecting commonly-owned units with a staircase. It’s people like you who keep us from descending into social chaos.

        1. Aaaaaaand the 2022 Award for Most Egregious Use of Whataboutism goes to……Soccermom! And it’s only January 6th. Congratulations.

  2. The City has effectively banked an astronomical amount of money in future fines for illegal, unpermitted, and corrupt development.

    How is that Federal lawsuit going?

  3. Where is the accountability for the people who did the illegal conversion? the January 2018 seller or agent should have some sanction for lack of disclosure of illegal conversion of a 2 unit building. If I bought this under false pretenses and had to pay for fixing the problem before I could sell, I’d be pissed (tho maybe the current seller and their agent knew and tried to pass the problem on?)

    1. The illegal conversion was done by the developer, and I’m sure that all of the owners post-developer knew about the hidden stairs. They weren’t a secret. The realtor who was selling the newly redeveloped property in 2016/2017 (it was listed for a while with price reductions) looked wistfully at the basement closet and told folks touring the property about what the city made the developer do. Hence the “work beyond scope” complaints in 2016.

      The first owner left the stairs enclosed (the linked photo of the area covering the stairs with the two balls is from the 2018 listing), but the current owner chose to open them up. And then sell as is.

      I doubt that a future owner would succeed at merging. There were 2 units in that lot before the building that was there burned, so the developer was supposed to be replacing those units, not putting one huge unit in their place.

      1. Ok. I’m wrong about the photo being from 2017, but I walked through the property before it was sold. It was sold off market but they had open houses. The stairs were not opened up at that point.

  4. When your finished product is so bland that it looks like a CGI rendering of a Room and Board backdrop…

    1. And yet, dwellings with this style sell for the most money, every single time. People like this style, and the numbers prove it.

  5. Could they have installed one way locks on door(s) to the stairway and called that an accessory fire escape? Otherwise, they should’ve sold off-market like last time. Or just marketed it as a vacant RH2. I just think the sellers were being dumb.

    1. The reality is they we will put up some sheet rock, and pay the fine, and whoever buys it will tear it down and treat it as one unit (and either eventually get a legal merger or just be smarter about marketing it when they sell it).

  6. We moan incessantly that families are leaving the city, and that we want families. What we fail to admit however is that we don’t want family sized houses. A family of four today, who can afford a decent house, is not content to live in 1500 square feet, or whatever. They want a huge single family house, with a back yard and a roof deck, and acres of storage for their possessions. Passing laws to prevent dwelling mergers and nosy neighbors bloviating is not going to change that.

  7. This is clearly a victimless “crime” and SF is the only city in the western world that sees it as harmful. In the current so-called progressive climate, would the owners be allowed to “get a legal merger”? This is a Board of Supervisors which recently refused a 500 unit project for a parking lot in order to “prevent gentrification.”

    1. I don’t think you can remove housing in the City (or at least it’s highly discouraged). Turning two units into one unit is seen as reducing housing stock, even though it functionally may house the same number of people.

      1. Building new housing is also highly discouraged with a Byzantine planning process and lots of Avenue for collective wailing about gentrification and neighborhood character.

        Our current system is the very definition of resistant-to-change conservatism.

        It should be easier to add and take away units in San Francisco.

  8. Agree with Dom – merging units I have heard is pretty difficult and generally discouraged as it reduces the amount of units available for rent.

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