Monday, March 24, 2014

Supervisors to vote on program to legalize some in-law residential units

Posted By on Mon, Mar 24, 2014 at 8:41 PM

For decades, the illegal in-law housing market in San Francisco has served as a vital, low-rent option for tens of thousands of residents. But the shadowy market has raised many concerns ranging from tenants’ rights to the preservation of in-law units as rents citywide have soared beyond the average of $3,000 a month.

Previous efforts by former Board of Supervisors members to legalize the estimated 30,000 to 50,000 secondary housing spaces have failed. But on Monday, a proposal by board President David Chiu to create a voluntary program moved ahead and is now just one step away from becoming law. It would allow owners of in-law units existing before January 2013 to legalize one unit per building.


Next week, the full board is scheduled to vote on the legislation after it was supported by the board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee following hours of public testimony. A large portion of the turnout represented single-family homeowners in the neighborhoods west of Twin Peaks, an area represented by Supervisor Norman Yee.

Matt Chamberlain, president of the West of Twin Peaks Central Council, which represents 20 neighborhood groups, opposed the initiative for possible “unintended consequences,” saying it would drive single-family home prices up and threaten the community’s existing character.

“Deep-pocket speculative developers will swoop in to buy single-family houses, almost all of which have a bonus room,” Chamberlain said. He requested the proposal be amended to allow only those who owned the property before January 2013 to legalize units that were already occupied by that time.

Some homeowners criticized the proposal for not allowing them to pass on to tenants some of the costs of doing the required building code improvements if they choose to make the secondary residential spaces legal.

“Not being able to pass through the costs would make it cost prohibitive. We don’t think that very many people are going to take advantage of this program,” said Noni Richen, president of the Small Property Owners Institute.

Amid the criticism, members of the board said they plan to continue discussions about the proposal leading up to the vote. That could potentially allow for some revisions.

Chiu believes the proposal will end the “shadow economy,” help preserve below-market-rate housing and “re-activate vacant units that have been kept off the housing market because of fear of enforcement.”

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