Information on the loss of residential units through Mergers/Demolitions
Generally the removal of a dwelling unit by merger with another unit, demolition, or change to a non-residential use requires you to complete the following:
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In some cases, a mandatory public hearing may not be required. Since the policies against dwelling unit removal/merger are designed to protect affordable and 'sound' housing, housing that is either not affordable, or not sound, may be approved administratively (see Soundness below).
The Planning Department has produced a helpful Implementation Document for Removal of Dwelling Units that explains in detail the definitions, criteria and procedures for filing and the review of application to remove or merge dwellings. It's probably a good idea to read this page and the Implementation Document to best understand the details of mergers/demolitions.
This page describes only the requirements that are generated by the removal of dwelling units. If you are removing dwelling units through alterations/expansion/change of use in a residential district, you should also read the Residential Building Expansion/Change of Use permit how-to guide. If you are removing units through demolition and new construction, read the Residential New Building Construction/Demolition permit how-to guide. If you are changing from a residence to a commercial use in a commercial district, read the Commercial Building Expansion/Change of Use permit how-to guide.
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 removal of dwelling units is regulated by the San Francisco Planning Code. To maintain the character and purpose of distinct areas in San Francisco, the City's geography has been divided into distinct zoning use districts (view these zoning use districts on the San Francisco Zoning Map and Section 201 of the Planning Code). For each activity or use of land in any given zoning district, the Code states if that activity or use is either: Permitted; Conditional; or Not Permitted. Therefore knowing the zoning district of your property will help you identify what specific limits may apply to your project and which application materials you will need to submit.
You can find the zoning use district and height limits of your property on the Find My Zoning page, or directly from our San Francisco Property Information Map by entering your address or Assessor's Lot and Block number and click the "Zoning" tab. Once you know the zoning use district of your property, you can reference our useful handout, "Summarizing San Francisco's Residential Zoning District Controls" which summarizes regulations and Code controls for projects in residential districts.
Other Things To Consider
In addition to the zoning district and land use regulations in the San Francisco Planning Code, your application will also be reviewed under provisions in all of San Francisco's Municipal Codes, the San Francisco General Plan, and Department policies based on a number of criteria (e.g. the historical significance of your property, the environmental impact of your project, or other regulations).
Here are the most common regulations you will need to consider:
Pre-Application Process & Neighborhood Notification requirements
Dwelling unit removal requires Neighborhood Notification, where the Planning Department mails a notice alerting neighbors and neighborhood groups in the vicinity of your proposed project and they are given a period of 30 days to respond with concerns. If the dwelling removal requires a Conditional Use Authorization(CU), you will need to submit that application and related notification materials as described in that application packet. If the project is subject to Mandatory Discretionary Review, you will need to submit neighborhood notification materials as described in the Dwelling Unit Removal Application for Merger, Conversion, or Demolition (also known as Section 317 Application). Depending on the scope of your project, you may also need to provide a "Pre-Application Notice" to nearby neighbors, and/or you may need to hold a "Pre-Application Meeting." The triggers for the Pre-Application Process are explained in the Pre-Application Information Packet.
Specific zoning districts where removal of dwelling units is not permitted
There are a limited number of districts where removal of dwelling units is not permitted at all. Generally these are Chinatown districts and certain NC districts where the prohibition is usually limited to the 2nd floor (i.e. the floor directly above the ground floor) and above. Part 2 of the Implementation Document for Removal of Dwelling Units lists these restrictions by district. The chart also illustrates whether a Conditional Use Authorization (CU) or a Discretionary Review (DR) Hearing would be required for those districts where a unit removal is permitted.
Mandatory Conditional Use (CU) Authorization or Discretionary Review (DR)
In the majority of cases, whether CU or DR is mandated depends on the number of units proposed for removal, their location within the building, and the zoning district of the property. For example, proposed removal of three or more units will always require a Conditional Use Hearing, and applications to remove or significantly alter historic structures require additional review. In either instance the case would be heard by the Planning Commission. These threshold are complex and therefore we recommend you contact the PIC to better understand if your dwelling unit removal project would require a CU, DR, or neither.
Soundness of housing
Soundness is a monetary measure of upgrading a property as compared to replacing a property. Generally if the cost to upgrade the unit(s) to "safe and habitable" standards costs more than 50% of the cost to replace the existing unit(s) at the same size, it would be deemed "unsound."
If the unit(s) are unsound or not affordable they may be exempt from the hearing requirement. To demonstrate that the property qualifies for one of these exemptions you would need to provide a Soundness Report or a current appraisal. For example, if a single-family dwelling in an RH-1 District has a "soundness value" higher than certain specified values, it would not require a hearing. (See "Dwelling Unit Removal Current Numerical Values" for current soundness values.)
The appraisal or soundness report must be submitted with the Dwelling Unit Removal Application for Merger, Conversion, or Demolition (also known as Section 317 Application) if the applicant contends that the project is unsound or unaffordable. Unsound one- and two-family dwellings that are proposed for demolition may be exempt from Mandatory Discretionary Review Hearings. There are also criteria that allow administrative approval of mergers. (Please refer to the Implementation Document for Removal of Dwelling Units, Form B).
"Tantamount to Demolition or Merger"
In addition to complete demolition of dwelling units, substantial alterations to dwellings may be considered "tantamount to demolition" depending on the extent of the building that is removed to accomplish the alteration. For example, removing more than 50% of the horizontal and vertical elements of the structure would be an alteration that is "tantamount to demolition." Refer to the Implementation Document for Removal of Dwelling Units for a detailed description of what constitutes tantamount to demolition. Similarly, proposals to expand one unit by making an adjacent unit in the same building smaller may be considered "tantamount to merger", if the unit is being reduced by 25% or more. Those applications will be treated the same as applications for complete demolition or merger, respectively, under San Francisco Planning Code Section 317.
If a building is a public hazard and recommended for demolition by the Director of the Department of Building Inspection (DBI), the Planning Department may approve the demolition on the advice of the Zoning Administrator.
Compliance with Residential Design Guidelines
In addition to the specific requirements of the Planning Code, buildings in Residential districts must conform to the Residential Design Guidelines which insure that the building's scale and architectural character are consistent with the surrounding neighborhood.
If your project involves alteration to a structure that has been identified (through a Historic Resources Survey or other means) as a historic resource or if the structure is 50 years old or greater then there will most likely be additional materials and process involved in order to determine if the proposed work is appropriate. See our Historic Preservation section to read more about evaluating historic character and the additional procedures that might be required if a historic structure is impacted. Preservation Technical Specialists (planners with specialized training in evaluating impacts on historic resources) at the Planning Information Center (PIC) can help you understand what's allowed on your building. There are regularly scheduled hours where Preservation Technical Specialists are available to help you at the PIC, click here for more info.
Environmental impact of your project
Projects may require a separate Environmental Evaluation Application depending on the scope of the project. Typically, alterations to existing structures that do not substantially enlarge or intensify the uses on the site nor significantly impact an environmental resource such as a historic building do not require an additional environmental review submittal. Contact the PIC if you have questions as to whether your project will require environmental evaluation.
Addition of street trees
Alterations to buildings that add substantial additional size, garages, or additional parking, among other things, must install street tree(s) (see San Francisco Planning Code, Section 138.1).
Removal of a street tree
If a tree needs to be removed due to construction, a tree removal permit will be required from the Department of Public Works (DPW) and a new tree would need to be installed. (Follow this link to apply for a tree removal permit on DPW's site.)
Through an effort to protect the City's most valuable, relevant and historic trees, the City has adopted tree protection legislation regarding certain trees. Be sure to check that a protected or landmarked tree won't be impacted by your project.
Most often each new dwelling unit will require a new parking space or require an exception to that requirement through a Variance Hearing.
In some instances impact fees may apply to an expansion or change of use. Contact the PIC to determine if that is the case for your property.
Applying for Your Permit & Paying Fees
To submit your application materials you will need to schedule an appointment with the Planning Department. The following information must be submitted when applying for a permit to remove dwelling unit(s):
- Construction plans and/or drawings
- Dwelling Unit Removal Application for Merger, Conversion, or Demolition (also known as Section 317 Application)
- Soundness Report or Appraisal, as described here (if you are contending the dwelling unit(s) are unsound or unaffordable)
- Conditional Use Authorization (not required if your project requires a DR)
- Building Permit Application Packet (required only if your project requires a DR)
- Forms provided in the Pre-Application Packet (if a Pre-Application Meeting is 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 which also describes the Neighborhood Notification process.
Permit fees are based on the construction cost of your project. Separate fees are required for the Conditional Use or Discretionary Review application. 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
For a description of the permit review process for the physical work that will be undertaken concurrently with your removal of dwelling unit(s) project, refer to our related how-to guides (i.e. Building Expansion/Change of Use, New Building Construction/Demolition).
The Planning Department reviews your Dwelling Unit Removal Application (also known as Section 317 application) . After the intake appointment, the application will be assigned to a planner on a specific Quadrant Team, dependent upon the location of the subject property. The assigned planner will review the dwelling unit removal application against relevant City Codes and regulations and set a Planning Commission public hearing date, if necessary, and send any required Neighborhood Notification. If a hearing is required, you should coordinate the timing of the submittal of the Building Permit Application with your assigned planner.
If the dwelling removal is approved—and once the planner has reviewed and approved the Building Permit Application—the Building Permit Application can be returned to DBI for their review. 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