One of the most frequently asked questions in San Francisco—especially in the current housing boom—is how easy it is to turn a two-unit building into a single-family home.
The short answer: It’s a real challenge to get permission from the city for this sort of transformation. This is because the city ultimately does not want to lose housing stock—particularly when it comes to rental units.
One way to potentially get around this sentiment is if you can research your two units and prove that at some point in the building’s past, it was a single-family home. In this case, if you involve a perfect storm of attorneys, city planners, a permit expeditor and spend a lot of time and money, your single-family house dream may become a reality.
You will also have to to go through a public hearing before the Planning Commission.
So there you have it. Don’t buy a two-unit building if a deal breaker would be the fact that you will not be able to turn it into a single-family home. Some have raised the question about whether it’s a good idea to go ahead and create your house without city permission. My answer to that is that you probably won’t get far once the neighbors report substantial construction happening (work about which they were not notified).
And if you do manage to change your two-unit dwelling into a house without permits, there will be a lot of explaining to do if you decide to sell. This is the sort of thing that can really complicate a sale and result in very negative repercussions for a homeowner.