Information on improvements to, or construction of, a ground floor room in a residential district.
Your project to create additional habitable space on the ground floor of a residential building (also referred to as a "Rooms Down" project) will require the submittal of a Building Permit Application. We review these project to hinder the creation of space that may easily be converted into an illegal dwelling unit (i.e. housing unit). If we determine that your project will not add a dwelling unit, it will most likely be approved over-the-counter (see Understanding What's Allowed).
Got permitting questions?
Read the FAQ
If the improvements you're planning do not add or remove dwelling units (i.e. housing units) from the building, or if your proposed improvements are simply internal changes on floors above the ground without expansion of the building, the Planning Department will not need to review your permit.
It is recommended to visit or call Planning staff at the Planning Information Center (PIC) early in the planning of your project. The PIC is at 1660 Mission Street, 1st floor and may also be reached by phone at (415) 558-6377 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We also recommend you contact the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) to confirm their requirements before submitting your Building Permit Application. They can be reached at (415) 558-6088, or at 1660 Mission Street 1st floor Public Information Counter.
Understanding What's Allowed
The construction of rooms on the ground floor is regulated by the San Francisco Planning Code. Generally, the creation of additional habitable space on the ground floor of a residential building is permissible so long as the project is consistent with San Francisco Planning Code guidelines. We review your proposed project against the guidelines detailed in Zoning Administrator Bulletin 1: Developing Ground Floor Accessory Rooms in Residential Buildings, a policy document that explains the issues of access and connectivity that the the Planning Department uses to determine if your proposed project can be approved. If your proposed project meets the criteria of the in this policy document, it will be approved over-the-counter.
Zoning Administrator Bulletin 1 provides a detailed description of the criteria your project must meet. In summary, we review your plans to assess the connectivity between the downstairs rooms and habitable space above, and access from the ground floor space to the street. The more connected the upstairs and downstairs spaces are, and the less direct the access from habitable ground floor space is to the street, the more permissive the Planning Department is regarding full baths and wet bars at the ground story. Conversely, the less connected the upstairs and downstairs spaces are and the more direct the access from habitable space on the ground floor is to the street, the more restrictive the Planning Department is concerning full baths and wet bars on the ground story. For example, the least desirable condition from the Planning Department's perspective is a case where there is no internal connection from habitable space downstairs to upstairs and a direct connection from habitable ground floor rooms to the street. In those cases the Department generally does not allow a full bath on the ground floor.
Within the Zoning Administrator Bulletin 1, there is a Matrix/Checklist which illustrates what is permitted based on the nature of connectivity between floors and street access. Diagrams are provided to explain the types of connections and the categories of access.
Don't forget to contact the Department of Building Inspection (DBI). Improvements to rooms on the ground floor that could otherwise meet San Francisco Planning Code requirements may have additional Building Code requirements such as minimum ceiling heights, ingress/egress requirements (i.e. entrance/exit requirements), fire safety requirements, or more.
Applying for Your Permit & Paying Fees
The following information must be submitted when applying for a Building Permit to construct/improve/develop rooms on the ground floor in a residential district:
- Construction plans and/or drawings (existing and proposed floor plans are required for change of use projects). See our Plan Submittal Guidelines.
- Neighborhood Notification materials (if required)
Since every project is unique, we have a useful matrix handout, the Permit Application Checklist which explains submittal requirements based on the proposed work as described under "How to Use This Matrix." A checklist of required materials to be submitted with the Building Permit is also included in the Building Permit Application Packet.
To submit a permit, prepare the Building Permit Application and bring it along with all necessary plans and materials as described in the Permit Application Checklist and/or Building Application Packet to the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) at 1660 Mission Street. If you are a new user, we recommend you come to the Planning Information Center (PIC) also at 1660 Mission Street before proceeding to DBI.
Permit fees are based on the construction cost of your project. To estimate permit fees, the Planning Department's fee schedule is available online. We also have a fee calculator for Building Permits reviewed by the Planning Department. If you have any questions, please stop by or call the Planning Information Center (PIC) staff at (415) 558-6377. Depending on your location and project type, impact fees may be required for new construction. Contact the PIC to see if these requirements apply to your property. Please note this is for the Planning Department's review fees only. Fees for review by the Building Department are available here. You may also call DBI at 558-6088.
Don't forget: Should the cost of staff time exceed the initial fee you paid, it is possible an additional fee for time and materials may be billed upon completion of the permit review process. Additional fees may also be collected for preparation and recordation of any documents with the San Francisco Assessor-Recorder’s office and for monitoring compliance with any conditions of approval.
Permit Review Process
If you have already visited the Planning Information Center (PIC) at 1660 Mission Street and you are confident you have all the correct materials for your Building Permit Application for creating additional habitable space on the ground floor of a residential building, your next step is to submit all those materials to the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) at 1660 Mission Street.
Your project application will be initially screened by DBI.
3. Plan Review
After DBI screens your application, the Planning Department will review the application. During the review, if your proposed project meets the San Francisco Planning Code (view the code online) requirements detailed in Zoning Administrator Bulletin 1, and is consistent with our Residential Design Guidelines and any additional regulations, the Planning Department will approve the permit over-the-counter and you may proceed to review by other agencies. If information is missing, or if corrections are needed, you will be asked to return with that information
You will meet with review staff from different departments as directed by DBI, who will check your construction documents to verify the proposed construction will meet the various City Municipal Codes (view all codes online). Staff from the following departments will check a typical Building Permit for creating additional habitable space on the ground floor of a residential building:
- Department of Building Inspection (DBI)
- San Francisco Fire Department
Other agencies may be involved depending on the scope of your project.
When all the reviews are complete, the permit will be issued, and you can begin work. Note, there is a 15-day period after Building Permit issuance in which any party may appeal the permit to the Board of Appeals.
Inspections of permitted work is the responsibility of the Department of Building Inspection. DBI's Inspection Services page explains their inspection function.
Applications & Handouts
Applications Mentioned On This Page
Handouts Mentioned On This Page