From roof decks to demolitions the City’s legislative agenda is packed with proposed legislation
that will affect San Francisco’s small property owners in a variety of ways. Here’s an overview
of some key proposals to watch in 2019.
Increased Restrictions on Renovations
Introduced with much fanfare, D3 Supervisor Peskin’s Demolition Ordinance No. 81216 has
been billed as a crackdown on illegal demolitions. But its scope is much broader than that.
In particular, it would make it more difficult for property owners to make even modest
renovations to their homes. First, the ordinance redefines “demolition” as including the
removal of more than 25% of a building’s internal structural elements, even if they are going to
be put back. This makes it easier to inadvertently reach the 25% threshold that triggers the
Conditional Use (CU) Permit requirement, were the onus is on the property owner to prove why
the proposed work should be allowed.
Second, the ordinance would make it more difficult to build an addition to your home. Under
the new proposed rules, if the addition adds 10% of square footage vertically, or 20%
horizontally, the work is classified as a “major alteration” and requires a CU Permit. In other
words, anyone seeking to increase square footage by as little as 10% may have to publicly notify
all neighbors of the planned work and undergo a Planning Commission hearing. Hearings for
CU authorization significantly increase the expense and delays associated with the permitting
In a similar vein, D8 Supervisor Mandelman has introduced legislation (No. 190048) to expand
the minimum size of rear yards in all single-family zoning districts from 25% of the lot depth to
30%. The measure is mostly relevant to new construction. However, the new rules would likely
turn many existing buildings into nonconforming structures. For example, a home with a 25%
rear yard would not comply with the new 30% requirement. In these circumstances, problems
could arise if the homeowner proposes to undertake alteration work, as that could require a
variance from the Zoning Administrator.
Mandatory Rights of First Offer and First Refusal
Ordinance No. 181212 would put certain non-profit organizations at the head of the queue to
purchase any for-sale property with three or more residential units. If you wanted to sell such a
property, you’d first need to notify the nonprofits and give them five days to express interest.
If a nonprofit does, you give it an additional 25 days to present an offer. If this process does not
result in a sale to the nonprofit and you want to sell to a third party, the nonprofit gets an
additional five days to match the third=party’s offer. If the nonprofit can match the terms and
conditions of the third party’s offer, you must sell your property to the nonprofit.
Although the measure would not compel you to sell to the nonprofit for a lower price, it
certainly has the potential to build delays into the sales process and create uncertainty for
buyers. It also raises serious constitutional questions and if passed, is likely to be challenged in
Proposed Vacancy Penalties
Late last year, D1 Supervisor Fewer introduced legislation (File No. 181213) that would crack
down on vacant storefronts by requiring owners to pay an annual fee for as long as the vacancy
remained. This Ordinance has passed its first reading and will most likely be enacted.
Residential owners should keep a watchful eye out as there have been rumblings about a more
wide-ranging measure being placed on the ballot in November that could extend the vacancy
tax to residential rental properties with three or more units.
New Rules for Roof Decks Proposed
Looking beyond the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission is considering new rules for
roof decks. The rules would limit the size of new roof decks and require a five-foot setback
from each roof edge. It would be prudent the keep the new proposed rules in mind if you are
considering building a roof deck.
How Can I be Heard?
If you’re concerned about any of these proposals, reach out to your local elected officials to
express your views. You can also submit written and oral comments to the Board of
Supervisors when it’s considering these proposals and engage with interest groups (especially
SPOSFI) that advocate for small property owners in San Francisco. If you have questions about
how these developments may specifically affect your property, or a project you have in mind,
seek legal advice.
Sarah M.K. Hoffman is an attorney with Zacks, Freedman & Patterson, PC. Reprinted with
permission of the Small Property Owners Association of San Francisco Institute (SPOSFI) News.
For more information on becoming a member as SPOSFI or to send a tax-deductible donation,
please visit their website at www.smallprop.org or call (415) 647-2419.