Construction and Building Permits in San Francisco

How can I help you with your renovation project?

As a project manager for an LLC that renovates residential real estate in San Francisco, I’ve had a fair amount of experience with the often complex and confusing process of permit applications and construction.  There are basically two types of permits in San Francisco when it comes to renovations.  The first is over-the-counter, which is what it sounds like.  You gather all of the necessary information and bring it to the building department, and they issue the permit for the work on the same day.  

The other type requires a longer review, and sometimes a neighborhood notice and review period.  These reviewed permits tend to add a minimum of 4-6 months to the planning phase of a construction project, and if neighbors are opposed to the project, that process can be extended much much longer.  Needless to say, many people renovating residential properties in SF want an over-the-counter permit, so they can avoid delays in their work.  Here are a few simple and general steps to help you get your permit over-the-counter:

  • Make sure to check zoning information for your property including setbacks, heigh limits, and minimum and maximum number of units.  Don’t plan on any changes to the property that go above and beyond these limits.
  • Try to work inside the envelope of the existing property.  If you want to add square footage, try to do so with existing unused space (basements, attics storage rooms etc).  Anytime you expand a home, you’re more likely to trigger neighbor reviews.
  • Hire an architect to draw up detailed plans for your renovations.  Make sure your architect is familiar with local building codes and follow them in the plans.  The architect can often go to get the permit for you, and this is preferable as they’ll have more knowledge of codes and be better able to answer any questions the building or planning departments have.
  • Be very careful when adding decks to a property.  Many decks will automatically require neighborhood review, but there are exceptions if the decks are cantilevered off of the building, or if they are within a certain height from the ground below them.
  • Some aspects of the existing structure may have been to code when built, but aren’t to code now.  If possible, leave those parts alone as they’ve been “grandfathered” in, and are okay not being up to current codes, but might require changes (sometimes extensive ones) if you do any work on them.

Of course, every project will vary, but if you follow these guidelines, you’ll be much more likely to get your permit quickly and smoothly without reviews by the city or from neighbors.  Good luck on your renovation!