Proposal looks at creating more in-law units

by Thomas K. Pendergast

A San Francisco supervisor has introduced legislation that would amend the city ordinance that controls Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU), what are commonly known as “in-law units,” in an attempt to streamline the process for adding units to the City’s housing stock.

The proposed changes to the ordinance, however, do not deal with what are known as “backyard cottages,” or residential structures separate from an existing residential house.

The proposed amendments are now sitting at the SF Planning Department, waiting its review and opinion. The usual 30-day waiting period for legislation after being introduced to the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee has passed, so once the department decides what it thinks about the changes, the amendments eventually could go before the full board or its committee for further analysis.

District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang submitted the amendments to the ADU legislation. She notes that although an ADU program was recently authorized to help keep multi-generational families together by accommodating aging family members, home health care providers, caregivers and persons with disabilities, and is also seen as a relatively lower cost and quicker method in obtaining additional housing in the City, the process is still flawed.

“Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are supposed to be an affordable way for people to create more housing while allowing the new housing to blend in better within the community. However, the process for creating ADUs is so onerous and we are seeking to change that,” Tang explained.

According to the legislative digest for the proposed legislation, the amendments would allow the conversion of an existing stand-alone garage or storage structure to an ADU as well as expanding the existing building envelope, allowing one ADU to be added to a new residential building of three units or less as a component of new construction. The amendments will also amend the building code to provide a pre-application plan review for ADUs, exempt from the permit notification requirement ADUs constructed within the defined existing building envelope, allow more than one unauthorized unit constructed without a permit to be legalized and waive or modify bicycle parking requirements for an ADU.

Proposed changes to the program also include, according to Tang: requiring that all relevant department staff be present during a project sponsor’s pre-application meeting, including from the Department of Building Inspection (DBI), the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) and Planning Department; plus removing street tree requirements.

Section 102 of the SF Planning Code currently defines ADUs, which applies only to existing single-family homes that strictly meet California ADU requirements. At this time, an ADU must be constructed entirely within the existing “living area,” or the buildable area of an existing building, or within the existing building envelope of an existing and authorized auxiliary structure on the same lot.

San Francisco first enacted an ADU ordinance in 2015 and since then has updated its ADU program in response to amendments to state law.

For lots that have more than four existing dwelling units or are undergoing seismic retrofitting, there is no limit on the number of ADUs permitted. The exception is that the department will not approve an application for construction of an ADU in any building where a tenant has been evicted within five years prior to filing the ADU construction application, unless that eviction was for non-payment of rent or other legally justifiable reasons.

Other exceptions are if the property owner has already certified that the original tenant reoccupied the unit after a temporary eviction, or the tenant certifies that the property owner notified the tenant of the tenant’s right to reoccupy the unit and the tenant chose not to reoccupy it.

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