San Francisco Enacts Harsh New Penalties for Code Violators

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San Francisco property owners should think twice before commencing construction projects without proper permits and approvals. On March 21, 2023, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed Ordinance No. 220878, which significantly increases fines and penalties for violations of the Planning and Building Codes. The stated goal of the new law is to deter code violations. To that end, the law increases daily penalties for Planning Code violations from $250 to $1,000. For multiunit buildings, if the violation affects the entire building, the Planning Department may now impose the maximum daily penalty on each unit. Notably, the law also changes who may be held responsible for the violations and penalties. Not only are property owners responsible, but also leaseholders, architects, builders, contractors or any other person who commits/assists in the violation.

Some common violations of the Planning Code that would be subject to these new penalties include:

  • Failing to install required street trees;
  • Failing to provide required bicycle parking;
  • Unapproved demolitions or additions;
  • Unapproved addition or removal of dwelling units;
  • Use of the front or rear setback for parking;
  • Operating certain home businesses;
  • Altering historical buildings or structures without approval; and
  • Certain zoning violations.

The law also increases the daily civil penalty amounts for violations of the Building or Planning Code, to no less than $200 and no more than $1,000. Under the Building Code, any person who provides false information on permit applications or plans would be additionally subject to these penalties.

Although the Building Department has always had the authority to record orders of abatement against property owners who fail to timely complete repairs to their properties, the new law permits the Planning Department to issue similar orders for Planning Code violations. Abatement Orders are recorded on title to the property with the San Francisco Assessor Recorders office, show up on title reports, and could make it more challenging to sell the property in the future. When the violations are abated, the city revokes the Abatement Order.

The new law imposes a severe penalty of up to $250,000 for violators who complete unpermitted work that results in the addition of more than three unauthorized residential units, or the loss of one. Property owners with existing unpermitted residential units should seek professional advice before taking any steps that could be considered unit removal under the Planning Code. The new law also authorizes a one-time additional penalty of $500,000 for violations that cause significant alteration or damage to a historic landmark.

If you would like to learn more about how this new law may affect your property, you should contact San Francisco Real Estate Attorney Laura Strazzo at Zacks & Freedman, PC for guidance. Contact us at your convenience to request a consultation.

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