Transforming problem houses into Dream Homes

Project Completed: San Francisco In-law Legalization

The project to legalize an in-law unit in San Francisco is complete! (Or at least, near enough to complete.)

This project was to take an existing “unpermitted” in-law unit in a house in San Francisco, and, within the City’s legalization program, make the changes required to legalize the unit.

The major changes required to make the unit comply with the current building code had to do with providing a fire rated corridor between the exterior door and the door to the unit, providing a fire rated wall between the unit and the garage, and a fire rated floor/ceiling between the unit and the house above, bring the bathroom into compliance with current codes and bringing all the electrical into compliance with current code.

The scope of work was big enough, that we basically had to rebuild the unit from the bottom up. We took advantage of this as an opportunity to improve the unit, making it more desirable for potential renters, and allowing the owner to ask a higher rent for the garden level unit.


The new fire-rated hall that extends from the exterior door means the tenants don’t have to walk through the garage anymore. Once there is some art on the walls, the corridor won’t be so stark. The angled ceiling is there because we couldn’t remove the lateral braces that help the house resist earthquakes. Door to the unit opens to the left right where the corridor narrows. The door at the end, up some steps, leads out to the garden.


When you open the interior door to the unit, there is a spacious entry, which is large enough to accommodate the required 2’x6′ bicycle parking spot within the unit. If the tenant doesn’t ride a bike, it can be used as storage, or as an office nook. The entry, opens up to a small area with a closet to the left, the bathroom straight ahead, and the main room to the right. The new floors are engineered wood.


This is the kitchen in the unit. It’s not large. This is a studio apartment. But the owner has opted for full size appliances, not apartment sized. The corner base cabinet is outfitted with Lazy-Susans to allow full use of the corner for storage. The blonde exposed ends of the cabinets will be painted white.


This is the view from the Kitchen looking into the sleeping alcove. The lower portion of the wall is thicker because of the foundations. I wish the wall heater wasn’t so deep, but this really is the best place for it for heating the studio evenly. I like the waterfall sill detail at the door.


This will be the sexiest bathroom in an in-law rental in the area. The owner wanted the river rock in the shower pan. We relocated the toilet so it could be brought into compliance with the building code. Doing so allowed us to enlarge the shower stall. And we installed underfloor heating in the bathroom. That is a real luxury out in the avenues where it’s often cold and foggy.

The unit is just over 300 square feet, one big, bright room with two ample closets, a large entry/office nook, and a super sexy bathroom. And now it is legal, which puts both the tenants and the owner on more sound legal footing in their rental agreements. As a legal, completely remodeled and updated unit, the owner can ask for the top end of market rents for the neighborhood, which will pay for the project in only 2 year’s time, after which the unit will provide solid income for the owner. As a legal rental unit, it also adds significantly to the value of the home. Per the City program, this unit can not be sold separately (no “going condo”).

The City has considered stopping this legalization program. At the moment it is still an option for home owners with “illegal” units. The cost to legalize will vary from unit to unit. But if you decide to legalize using the program, you will not be fined for having an illegal unit, and the plan check fees are waived (saving you thousands of dollars). If you’ve got a unit, and you are thinking about legalizing, give me a call. I might be able to help you.

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