Legalizing an Illegal Unit into a new Legal Accessory Dwelling

“We have a little secret. We have an illegal apartment in our basement/attic/garage, and 40,000 of our neighbors do too. Shhhh, don’t tell anybody… ”

Cities across the country are packed full of illegal units.  It’s part of the deal from tiny “bunkies” in rural communities to 1,000 square foot “Game Rooms” in Los Angeles.

Here’s the good news for people in San Francisco  – A change at the city level give almost all owners the right to add an in law or accessory dwelling to their home.  You can also legalize the previously built without permits.

At New Avenue we regularly receive calls about how to legalize an illegal unit.  We reached out to some of our architects to gather insights on legalizing illegal units.

The short answer, is it’s tricky. It will typically take 100 hours, and it often takes 200 hours of an architects time to get through the city process.  If you have code violations in your home then they can catch you when you try to get the permits.  Architects have to charge between $10,000 and $20,000 to do a project like this and they can not risk starting a project for you if you are not prepared to pay the full $20,000.  If they get half way through and end up working for free to finish the project then they go out of business.

To quote the responses we received from architects:

“We have one of those and it stalled after we tried to submit it to DBI. They took a strict interpretation of the code with a part of the building that was not even on the legalization checklist and it is probably going to kill the project.”
“We’re not going to take any more of them unless it’s part of a larger project, the fees are too small and there are too many headaches (I just turned down one of them via email a few minutes ago).”

“They are totally unpredictable- that’s the problem.”

“At present we don’t want to take any ADU projects with a less than a $20k fee unless it’s part of a larger contract.  It’s too much management overhead to take the really small projects.”

We’ve kept the quotes anonymous because, well, architects know that it’s all too easy to blame the messenger.

$20,000 to legalize a potentially unsafe apartment will pay for itself in resale. If you can design an additional bedroom or living space it may pay for itself in rental income too.

We can provide a full budget noting all hours for a project like this upon request.  Just Get Started here on New Avenue to do so.

Have any questions? We are available to discuss your goals & ideas. There’s no fee or commitment. To request a time for a call, just click here and tell us when to call you.