Dax, Other/Just Looking in San Francisco, CA

Permitting and bringing up-to-code unwarranted rooms.

Asked by Dax, San Francisco, CA Wed Sep 23, 2009

Hello, my home has an unwarranted area behind the garage. The area was used as an in-law suite complete with a bathroom. I would like to have the area permitted, but they also need to be renovated. I am working on the bathroom now. I have tried to talk to home inspectors and the city building department and no one seems to know exactly what I need to do. The city building department told me that I couldn't renovate one room at a time because an inspector would come out to "approve" of the bathroom and then site me for the other unwarranted rooms. So, my question is what is the correct order of actions/events that need to take place to get my unwarranted bathroom warranted. I know it might need to be brought up to code, but for some reason no one wants to come inspect it for me! Who do I contact?

Thank You,


Help the community by answering this question:


Hi Dax

Glad to hear you are moving in the right direction.

What you are doing are things that need to be done, so probably you will not be recooperating that money since all of that should have been done in the first place.

Having said that, I do not really know the area where you live, but probably, when you resolve all of your code issues then you could actually advertise in good faith all that you have to offer and may be get a better price than your competition at the time, based on upgrades.

I am sure a local agent should be able to better assist you on that issue

Good luck
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Oct 21, 2009
Thanks for all the great answers. I recently was quoted about 5k for the plumbing to update the bathroom. The electrician said the electricity was done in an acceptable legal way (in metal wire runs along the walls). Of course, I'd rather the wires not be seen at all, and he quoted me between 5k and 7k to update all of the electricity. So, that alone is around 12k. I can do most of the drywall and flooring work myself.

Will the expense be worth the investment?

0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Oct 21, 2009
Hi Dax,

I recommend giving Jeremy Paul a call.

Jeremy Paul, Expeditor
Quick Draw Permit Approval
(415) 552-1888


He would do a feasibility study after visiting the site and reviewing the permit history. I’m assuming that you reviewed the 3R report which is the permit history of the property to determine if the space is indeed unwarranted (although they are not always accurate especially with S.F.’s older real estate).

Jeremy will then make a recommendation as to best approach and if it is feasible to bring the space to code; he will work start to finish with the city on the permit process.

You may also want to consider consulting with a Realtor (hopefully one that you’ve located on Trulia :-) ) for recommendations on best/suitable ways to get the biggest bang for the buck with your improvements. Since you may not be at your property long term, I’d be cautious about not over improving for your neighborhood or making the space too personalized.

Best wishes,

Cheryl Bower, Realtor , GRI, ABR
Cell 415.999.3450
Zephyr Real Estate
Web Reference: http://www.sfbungalow.com/
0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Sep 24, 2009
Hi Dax

Just thought of something, I might be able to find someone for you over there (or at least
the starting point for comparison).

Send me an email (in my profile) with your location and I'll do some "digging" around here.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Sep 24, 2009
Hi Dax

It seems, from what you are saying, that these rooms might be far from your house and probably built too close to property lines encroaching in the set back areas (which might be the unwarrented scenario and bigger issue than electrical alone).

I would contact a reputable home inspector in your area. They can look at all issues and give you an assessment of what might not be up to code and go from there. If you will be moving within a year you might want to know what's wrong with your house ahead of time, before putting it on the market anyway.

Hopefully it is just electrical and/or plumbing, if so then you'll need a licensed plumber or the electrician and they might pull permits to do the work themselves as contractors.

Hope that helps. Good luck.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Sep 24, 2009
Thanks so much Patricia, Jedd, and Ken.

There is no kitchen in the "in-law" suite. I'm using that term loosely as I don't really know what the rooms were used for. Basically, it's just two empty rooms we are using as a library and office and the bathroom. The laundry is also down there, but from the way it's set up, I think it's always been there. The electricity down there is completely run on the outside of the walls and hidden by painted plastic wire covers (tacky). I did remove some of the sheet rock in the bathroom and there is no insulation in the walls!

As I don't want to use them as in-law suites or to rent out, I don't think we have a zoning issue. I just want them to be used as either an office/library area or an extra bedroom.

I talked for a very long time to a person at the department of building inspection for SF and he didn't think it was a good idea for them to come out because he said the inspector would cite me for the other areas regardless. I'd have to have plans to immediately (well, within a year) redo the entire area. I can't choose to just redo one part at a time (which is all I can afford or have the time to do right now), he said. I wasn't sure that I was going to remodel anything other than the bathroom and hallway anyway as we might not be living her within a year. But, I hate having a bathroom and it not adding value to the home just because it's unwarranted.

I can do a vast majority of the work myself ... all but plumbing and electricity.

So, is this the correct order of events:

1. Get a contractor or architect to come out and tell me what needs to be corrected to bring it up to code (which is better)?
2. Have a plumber and electricity check to see if those are up to code.
3. Draw out plans for the entire area (sheesh)
4. Submit it for a permit as an Alteration (not new construction).

Sorry, I'm full of questions. SF has more permit requirements than most other cities and finding simple answers on the website is impossible.

Thanks again!
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Sep 23, 2009
Interesting advice from around the country. Good luck getting to the CBO in San Francisco.
My advice would be to go in two directions and you should get a clear idea on what to do when you can compare the advice. Go down to the building department and talk to anyone that you need to talk to. The front desk people are helpfull as long as you treat them with respect. You might get to speak with a plan checker also. Bring in a drawing of the rooms and what you want to do. Understand that there are minimum requirements like height, egress and windows. If you can't get those then permits will not be given. Let's suposse the height etc is all there, be sure you do not propose replacing the unit if you are not zoned for multi-unit buildings. You will need an electrical and plumbing permit, and a permit for the space addition.

The other path is getting a contractor to come and look at the existing and tell you what is needed to bring it up to code. Get an estimate and scope of work then take that down and get a permit.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Sep 23, 2009
Jed Lane, Real Estate Pro in San Francisco, CA
Hi Dax,
How extensive will the renovations need to be? Ask your chief code official if you can have the entire suite considered a single renovation project. Be prepared to provide a project plan that outlines the order and extent of your repairs. You will still have to pull separate permits for plumbing, electrical, etc, but having the city/county issue a building permit for the entire project will be less confusing for everyone. Most code officials are very helpful and can give you, as the homeowner, valuable information on the what / when / how that they will not for a licensed contractor.

Assuming you will not need to make any repairs or upgrades to the foundation or roof, the typical order of new construction work (and permit inspections) is:
-Framing Inspection
-Rough-In Inspections for Plumbing / Electrical / Mechanical (heating, venting, air conditioning)
-Insulation inspection
-Final Inspection for Plumbing / Electrical / Mechanical (HVAC)
-Final Building Inspection and Sign-Off

You may find the referenced website helpful for looking up what year / version of your state building codes and guidelines. Hope this helps! And good luck! -Kenn
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Sep 23, 2009
Hello Dax

I do not know what the process is in CA and/or San Francisco in particular, but I can share with you what the order would be here in VA.

There are two departments that you should be inquiring with, the Zoning Department and the Building Department. Zoning is the one that allows you (or not) to have a suite-in law in the first place, once you have this part cleared up then you can move into the Building department.

If the room was done and the use is restricted in your residential zone, then you should ask (the zoning department) for a "grand fathered" clause and see if they will accept it, if they do not accept it then you can ask for a "variance" and go through a hearing process first. They have the priviledge of accepting it or not, if they do then you can move on, if they do not then they might ask you to remove the suite-in law area.

Once that is approved (as a non-conforming use) then you can ask the building department to inspect and review the upgrades you made, such as bringing it "up-to-code"

Hope that answers your question.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Sep 23, 2009
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