ANYTIME ANYONE WANTS TO REMODEL their property in the City an entire, unwieldy permitting, entitlement and approval process may be implicated. Or not. As some property changes don’t require permits while others simply require an ‘over-the-counter’ approval. But if you want to expand your property outside its current 3-D envelope or footprint then here’s where understanding the process will matter.

While you can get these types of permits approved within a matter of days or weeks in many parts of the country the same is not true here. Land is scarce, historic concerns may matter, neighbors may need to be placated, oh and yeah, there are earthquakes here from time to time. Combine that with the thicket of criss-crossing tenant-protection laws, below-market rate housing requirements and a checkered history of unchecked development that decimated the Fillmore in the 60s and 70s, it’s no wonder that San Francisco has developed an elaborate, kabuki-filled process to regulate and control remodeling, construction and development that is confusing, self-conflicted and complicated. People do, of course, navigate the process successfully and can reap the benefits accordingly. This guide is only mean to serve as a starting overview of the process, considerations and observations we’ve made over our years of advising sellers and buyers in the City.

By the Book

While the Planning Commission has discretion over all building permit applications, there are two main agencies that handle permit applications for remodeling and new construction: The Planning Department and the Department of Building and Inspection.

The Planning Department is normally delegated with reviewing applications against Planning Code standards that cover historic issues, density and use requirements as well as affordable housing in certain contexts.

The DBI handles the actual construction part of the review process and issues plumbing and electrical permits and enforces Building Code standards that take into account safety and seismic issues along with better building processes.

Most projects only require DBI approval while others can leave applicants stuck in the planning approval process for years. Literally. So, where to begin?

 

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