The Red Headed Stepchild of San Francisco

I have absolutely no idea if calling something a red headed stepchild is politically correct in 2012 or not. If it isn’t, my apologies in advance – leave a comment with a politically correct suggestion…

At a company meetup this morning there was an overview of condo conversion, which I’m not going to summarize here other than to say… there are so many special cases and circumstances that instead of giving you some worthless blanket advice I’ll just suggest you get in touch with your specific case. An interesting discussion did come up around “housekeeping units,” though, so I thought I’d share that here today.

The San Francisco housing code is designed to set a minimum level of habitability for safety, and as you might guess it has a definition for almost everything.

One of the interesting definitions is for a “housekeeping unit” which is defined as:

Housekeeping Room/Unit with Cooking Facilities. Housekeeping unit or room containing one guestroom with electric cooking facilities, in existence and legalized by permit prior to 1969 in a residential building built before 1960.

The dates in the definition provide a clue to the origin of the housekeeping unit. In short, these were units added without permit during the population boom that happened after the end of World War II.

World War II changed San Francisco is numerous ways, from the expansion of military bases and shipyards to the impact Japanese internment had on the African American community, but in this case I’m talking about how the end of World War II caused a major influx of people to the city.

As you can see from the chart below, in terms of number of people that moved to the city, the decade between 1940 and 1950 saw the biggest influx of people to San Francisco in the city’s entire history (yes, percentage wise the gold rush totally beat it). You can click on either chart below for a link to an interactive version.

At no other time in SF’s history – that I’m aware of – have we legalized a bunch of illegal units. From time to time, city politicians speak about legalizing all of our existing in-law units, but given objections from city planners and neighborhood groups it never really goes very far.

From a unit standpoint, the Department of Building Inspection doesn’t count housekeeping units towards the total unit count of a building. So, from their perspective a 2-unit building + a housekeeping unit = a 2-unit building. The Planning department, however, uses different math. According to the planning department, a 2-unit building + a housekeeping unit = a 3-unit building. Why does it matter? 

Because a 2 unit building (using planning’s math) can bypass the condo conversion lottery after both units have been owner occupied for one year. 3-unit buildings, on the other hand, must enter the lottery.

So beware… regardless of what an agent says, SF planning won’t allow a 2-unit building + housekeeping unit to bypass the condo conversion lottery.

Red-headed stepchild, indeed!

Bonus link: Video of city inspector discussing legal, illegal, in-law and housekeeping units

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