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New law: Unlimited In-Law Units for Big Buildings, Almost All Rent-Controlled

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Something for everyone, except perhaps for NIIMBYs

In the midst of a housing crisis, San Francisco City Hall wants more in-law units to relieve the pressure. And, barring any unforeseen icebergs in the water, a new bill that delivers density to Board of Supervisors moderates hot for more housing and a new source of rent control to liberals seems like a winner to pass.

Previously, supes agreed that they want to lift the sanctions on the likes of new basement and garage apartments in existing buildings (known as "accessory dwelling units," in planning parlance), but didn’t quite see eye to eye about how many.

District Three's Aaron Peskin proposed that any existing property with ten or fewer units be allowed to build an extra in-law on the property, and that any larger building could build two.

Meanwhile, supes Mark Farrell and Scott Wiener suggested a more full-throttle plan—unlimited in-law construction for any building with five or more units. They even proposed permitting in-laws in unused retail space of large developments.

The final compromise, according to a joint press release from Farrell and Peskin: "Unlimited construction of ADUs within buildings that are five units or more," and a limit of one new unit in smaller buildings.

New units have to stay within the existing building envelope and, perhaps the most important part, all new units will be rent-controlled, "except for ADUs in existing condo buildings with no prior eviction history."

It’s unlikely that the final law will preempt any building that has ever evicted a tenant, but we haven’t yet heard back about how long the window is and whether there are any exemptions for evictions with cause.

[Update: Must have been eviction free for ten years.]

Once upon a time, in-laws were strictly outlaws. But now they look like an attractive tool to increase housing stock (in this time when almost anything looks like an attractive tool to increase housing stock).

Critics of the more permissive policy, including several members of the Planning Commission, point out the dangers of "hidden density" that may crowd neighborhoods, put wear and tear on infrastructure, and strain already overtaxed transit lanes while leaving the neighborhood apparently unchanged at face value.

But the relatively quick and easy path to more housing is apparently just too attractive of a plum. Even in this time when board members are all but sneaking around behind each other’s backs to do official business, ideologically inverse politicians can still get the warm and fuzzies together over granny units.