SAN FRANCISCO—On Thursday, August 30, SF Mayor London N. Breed issued an Executive Directive to accelerate the approval of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), commonly known as in-law units, and to clear the backlog of pending applications.

According to a press release from the Mayor’s Office, ADUs are part of Mayor Breed’s strategy to create more housing throughout San Francisco, and the only way to add new rent-controlled units to San Francisco’s housing supply. The lack of clear and consistent standards subjected applications to an unnecessarily long review period, resulting in a backlog of 900 applications in some stage of review.

Mayor Breed’s Executive Directive asks for all outstanding ADU applications to be responded to within the next 6 months, and requires that all new applications must be acted upon within 4 months. The Directive instructs city departments to set clear, objective code standards for ADU applications, which will provide the guidance necessary for applicants to navigate otherwise conflicting code sections, and as a result, allow these units to be approved quicker. This will take the form of an information sheet that will set these standards so all ADU applicants have clear and reliable guidelines.

“San Francisco is in desperate need of more housing, and we need to be encouraging the construction of new homes, particularly when we are talking about new rent-controlled housing,” said Mayor Breed. “The current backlog of ADU applications is unacceptable and a clear sign that the process is not working. When people apply to build these new homes, it should be clear what their application should include and that the City will handle their application efficiently. We cannot let the process drag on for months and months, as that delays homes from being built and discourages future applicants.”

In 2014, after the first ordinance was passed to allow the construction of new ADUs in the Castro neighborhood, the program has slowly expanded to allow new ADU construction throughout San Francisco. ADUs are constructed within buildings, using underutilized storage or parking spaces, and are cheaper and faster to build than traditional units. When an ADU is built within a rent-controlled building, the new ADU is subject to rent control. Over 90 percent of the 377 ADUs permitted to date will be rent-controlled.

“We cannot say that we want to create more housing opportunities and then put barriers that restrict people from creating housing,” said San Francisco Board of Supervisor Katy Tang. “These are practical solutions to help property owners create more ADUs without jeopardizing life safety issues, and I am glad to see our City departments working collaboratively on this issue.”

City departments have taken steps to explain and expedite the review process, including granting a window at the Department of Building Inspection to provide specific guidance on ADUs to potential applicants, and a station staffed by an employee from the San Francisco Planning Department that helps applicants schedule appointments online to review ADU-specific code requirements.

“We are committed to fast-tracking and streamlining the permit issuance and inspection process for all housing and ADU projects,” said Tom Hui, Director of the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection. “We are taking additional steps to ensure the review and approval process allows greater flexibility and predictability without sacrificing safety or livability.”

Part of the review process includes clarifying inconsistencies in various code requirement approvals that include shared paths of travel, emergency escape and rescue openings and alarm systems. The information sheet created as part of Mayor Breed’s Directive clarifies those code requirements in a central document that city departments and prospective applicants can reference.

“San Francisco’s ADU program is a model for how to add density in existing buildings,” said Mark Hogan, an architect who has worked on numerous ADU applications.  “But the program has been mired in bureaucracy for the first few years of its existence. It has been slow to see these units start construction, even with a huge number of permits filed. This is a welcome change that will help get these sorely needed homes built quickly.”

Additional information about the city of San Francisco’s Accessory Dwelling Unit program is available online at