Buying a 1993 build house with a detached garage that was added in 2003 with half bath in rear storage area: can i fully convert it?

Asked by andygough1974, San Jose, CA Fri Apr 26, 2013


The house had a permit for a detached garage with half bath which has been built and is currently being used as a photography studio. From we have:


I would like to fully convert this into a stdio apartment, can anyone give me advice on this?

Will I be able to get a permit to do this?

If I apply for a permit and don't get one, then do the conversion anyway (to code) would there be a heightened danger of a "surprise inspection" ?

I was hoping that because the garage was a later permitted addition to the home then I shouldn't have issues with adding additional parking due to the conversion, is that right?

The garage is 640sqft, has a garage door, the walls are insulted and there is full electric and plumbing already there (permitted). It has a side entrance and large window also.

Any advice is greatly appreciated, thanks

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The Medford…, Agent, Fremont, CA
Fri Apr 26, 2013
Go to the city planning department and ask them what your options are. Best to hear it directly from the horse's mouth. Even though I'm a licensed contractor, have done many projects in San Jose and have a very good idea what your options are, the city is the best authority and your discussions should really start there.
3 votes
Hi Carl, in your experience could it happen that i get rejected and the city later checks if i did the work anyway?
Flag Fri Apr 26, 2013
Terri Vellios, Agent, Campbell, CA
Fri Apr 26, 2013
The city has several requirements and codes that they enforce for such improvements. It will be based on factors specific to you lot and zoning. It depends on the lot size, set backs, use, and neighbors. At one time San Jose was allowing a secondary housing or granny unit. It had to conform to their guidelines.

I would highly caution you not to build without a permit for the reason Julian stated, that the tenants could claim substandard conditions. Also, your home owners insurance most likely would not cover not permitted living spaces and in the unfortunate event of a loss the risk to you can be substantial.
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1 vote
Juliana Lee, Agent, Palo Alto, CA
Fri Apr 26, 2013
You likely won't be able to convert the garage to a studio apartment if the property is zoned R1. The half bath is typically the maximum plumbing that can be put in a detached building on a R1 lot. ("If over 200 sf, may have no more than two plumbing fixtures" see page 30 of City of Palo Alto document below for accessory structures)

However if the lot is large enough some cities will allow a 2nd dwelling unit. The City of Palo Alto puts many useful guides online. Each city and even some neighborhoods have different regulations but a good general starting point can be found on page 44 of:

I believe around 2007 San Jose was changing its requirements for 2nd dwelling units. For San Jose a good starting point to find info would be but the Second Dwelling Unit category doesn't have a working link.

Inspections are often due to a neighbor complaining: too many cars, too much noise, etc. If you are planning on renting out the studio apartment built without permits, a tenant could claim that you rented substandard housing causing you to lose a fair amount of money.

Useful contact information for San Jose homeowners is at

Juliana Lee
Top 2 agent nationwide at Keller Williams Realty
Cell 650-857-1000

Over 30 years experience
Over 1,000 homes sold in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties
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1 vote
Thanks Juliana, in the permit for the garage build it says its zoned R2, does this mean it would be easier to get a permit?
Flag Fri Apr 26, 2013
Elena Talis, Broker, Palo Alto, CA
Fri Apr 26, 2013
It depends on lots of factors - go to the city and ask. It depends on zoning, lot size and hole bunch of other factors. Again, talk to the city.
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0 votes
chris mosher, Agent, San Jose, CA
Fri Apr 26, 2013
If you apply for a permit to convert it to a studio the city will still require a garage or at least covered parking for 2 cars.
0 votes
Thanks Chris. Even though there was no garage originally when the house was built?
Flag Fri Apr 26, 2013
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