Frequently Asked Questions
- What are the responsibilities of the Planning Department vs the Department of Building Inspection (DBI)?
- What the heck is going on with my permit?
- What can I do with my property/Where may I start my business?
- Who do I complain to if someone is operating an illegal use?
- Can the Planning Department help me with disputes concerning property line boundaries and fences?
- What are some common referral phone numbers that may be helpful regarding use of one's property in San Francisco?
Generally, the Planning Department is responsible for regulating the type and scale of land use activities that may take place at a given location. The Planning Department, through the Planning Code and Zoning Maps, places limits on these activities and the overall dimensions of the structures in which they occur. This is accomplished through establishment of controls such as maximum dwelling unit densities, restrictions on allowable commercial uses by zoning district and by building story, establishment of maximum building heights, rear yard, open space, and parking requirements. The DBI is responsible for all structural and life safety concerns in the construction, demolition or alteration of buildings including, but not limited to, matters such as electrical and plumbing permits, HVAC systems, Title 24 energy standards and handicapped access pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.
If you have a pending building permit under review, information about its status may be obtained either at the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) (415) 558-6088 or at the Planning Information Counter (PIC) of the Planning Department (415) 558-6377. If you are interested in the status of a Planning Department authorization other than a building permit, e.g. a Variance or Conditional Use authorization you may call the PIC. However, when you know the staff member who is currently reviewing your permit, at either DBI or the Planning Department, you should call that individual directly. If you need to contact individual staff at the Planning Department, all planners names, phone numbers and email address are available at the staff contacts page.
As is explained in more detail in our zoning page, the zoning regulations of the City Planning Code establish the uses that are allowable on any property in the City and County of San Francisco. If you want to know what is allowed on a site, including whether you may operate a particular business, call the Planning Information Counter (PIC) at (415) 558-6377 and they can answer your questions. The phone number for information regarding business licenses is provided below.
Violations related to construction or remodelling being done without a permit or beyond the scope of an authorized building permit should be referred to DBI at (415) 558-6096. Violations of the Planning Code, relating to such topics as illegal uses, e.g. possible illegal dwelling units or commercial uses in residential properties, or illegal signage, parking, or violation of conditional use or variance conditions of approval can be called in to the Planning Information Counter at (415) 558-6377.
This is a civil matter and not in the Planning Department's jurisdiction. In order to precisely establish property boundaries a professional survey prepared by a licensed surveyor would be required. The Planning Department can provide a precise description of property dimensions. The Street Use and Mapping section of the Bureau of the Department of Public Works, (415) 554-5810, can provide the same information for streets and sidewalks. This information may be used by concerned parties to estimate property boundaries. This information may be useful in addressing disputes regarding responsibility for fences or retaining walls along or near property lines.
If a fence or wall is clearly only on one property, that property owner owns the fence or wall. In the case of fences, the owner is responsible for maintenance to the extent they choose to maintain and/or replace them because fences are not required. If the location of a fence or wall relative to property lines is in doubt, property owners sharing the fence or wall may agree to share the costs of maintenance.
If there is dispute about the nature of agreements made concerning property line boundaries including any fences or walls, as well as similar "good neighbor" conflicts, the parties may contact the Community Boards of San Francisco at (415) 920-3820 for assistance in resolving the dispute.
Note: phone numbers, names, etc., are subject to change. Please call 3-1-1 or perform an online search if the information below is out-of-date.