Homeowners

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Overview

If you are planning to

  • build,
  • demolish,
  • renovate or expand a home, or
  • add one or more dwelling units to an existing residential building,

you will need a building permit.

Depending on the type of work you wish to do and the zoning district of your property, your project may be approved with the permit issued over the counter on the same day you apply, or it may require a more thorough review process, including public notice and several pre-application and staff review steps.

Obtaining a Permit

There are six basic steps required for a construction, renovation, or expansion project in San Francisco.

By the Applicant By City Agencies
Visit or call the Planning Information Center Permit Review
Understand what is allowed Permit approval
Fill out building permit forms and pay fees Inspection (by the Department of Building Inspection)

The City’s Planning Code describes the types and size of residential uses allowed in each zoning district. You should first find out the zoning and permitted uses of your property to determine whether your project can be approved there. See more detailed Zoning information.

Environmental Review

Most development projects and permit applications are required to undergo environmental review to evaluate whether they will cause environmental impacts to the City of San Francisco and its residents. There are several types of environmental review, depending on the size and nature of the project, which can range from projects for which no review is needed, to small projects that can be evaluated over the counter, to those requiring an environmental impact report that may take a year or more to complete. As part of Planning’s review of your permit application, staff will determine what type of environmental review is needed for your project and will provide you with information about the fees and time required to complete the review.

Some actions are exempt from (that is, they do not require) environmental review; these generally include small-scale new construction or demolition, some changes of use, and some building additions.

Design Review

During the permit review process, Planning staff review the design of projects involving new construction or renovation that will expand an existing building or change exterior features (for example, by constructing an addition, adding dormer windows, decks, or stairs, adding a garage, or changing the façade). The most commonly used design guidelines for residential projects are the Planning Department's Residential Design Guidelines, which Planning staff use to review residential building permit applications. If you are using the services of an architect, she or he should be familiar with these guidelines. For building expansions, which require neighborhood notification, Current Planners also consult the Residential Design Team, a group of planners that is well versed in the Residential Design Guidelines and helps by providing a consistent review process.

Notification Process

When an applicant submits a Building Permit to the Department of Building Inspection (DBI), the Planning Department is the first reviewing agency and will conduct the Neighborhood Notification. Neighborhood Notification is mailed to residents and owners of properties located within 150 feet of the subject property and registered neighborhood groups for a 30-day public review period.

Most new construction or building expansion, as well as some applications to add dwelling units to an existing residential building, require notification to the public before permits can be reviewed and the project can be approved. In some cases, new decks, stairs, or other features on the exterior of your home will also require notification. For some projects, a pre-application meeting is required as well. For a Conditional Use application, a hearing before the Planning Commission is required, and all property owners within 300 feet of the property must be notified of the hearing. Any approval or review that requires a hearing also requires notification.

For more information, including a list of the types of projects that require notification and a detailed guide to the process, see the Neighborhood Notification Handout and the Conditional Use Authorization Application, or contact the Planning Information Center.

Regardless of notification requirements, it is always a good idea to reach out to neighbors and neighborhood groups early in your project planning process to inform them about the project and to hear about any concerns they may have. Planning staff can help with neighborhood outreach resources and contacts.

Discretionary Review

The Planning Commission has discretion over all building permit applications. Normally, this discretion is delegated to the Planning Department, which approves applications that meet the minimum standards of the Planning Code.

From time to time the Commission will review a permit application. As part of their discretionary powers, they can require the permit applicant to make changes to the project. This process of Commission consideration is commonly known as Discretionary Review, or simply DR. By filing a DR application, a member of the public is asking the Commission to exercise its discretionary power, effectively taking a second look at the proposed project.

Discretionary Review is a special power of the Commission, outside the normal building permit application approval process. It is to be used only when there are exceptional and extraordinary circumstances associated with a proposed project. The Commission has been advised by the City Attorney that the Commission’s discretion is sensitive and must be exercised with utmost constraint.

For more information and the DR Application, please visit here.

Resources

Provided below are the most common handouts and applications that will get you started on your project. Select this link to review a listing of guidelines.