Opening a massage establishment will require the submittal of a Building Permit Application and most likely a Conditional Use Authorization (CU), as well as other permits from the Department of Public Health. Depending on the scope of work and zoning district of your property your project may be approvable over-the-counter (OTC), or it may require Neighborhood Notification and several accompanying Pre-Application steps.
Read the FAQ.
Although you should check with the Planning Department at the outset to see if a massage business can be established within a particular zoning district (see Understanding What's Allowed below), you must start your permit application process for opening a massage business with the Department of Public Health (DPH), (1390 Market Street Suite 210, San Francisco, CA; 415-252-3800). For more information, visit their Massage Licensing Program and Massage Licensing FAQ web pages.
It is recommended to visit or call Planning staff at the Planning Information Center (PIC) early in the planning of your project. The PIC is at 1660 Mission Street, 1st floor and may also be reached by phone at (415) 558-6377 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We also recommend you contact the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) to confirm their requirements before submitting your Building Permit Application. They can be reached at (415) 558-6088, or at 1660 Mission Street 1st floor Public Information Counter.
Understanding What's Allowed
Massage establishments are regulated by the San Francisco Planning Code. To maintain the character and purpose of distinct areas in San Francisco, the City's geography has been divided into distinct zoning use districts (view these zoning use districts on the San Francisco Zoning Map and Section 201 of the Planning Code). For each activity or use of land in any given zoning district, the Code states if that activity or use is either: Permitted; Conditional; or Not Permitted. Therefore knowing the zoning district of your property will help you identify what specific limits may apply to your project and which application materials you will need to submit.
You can find the zoning use district and height limits of your property on the Find My Zoning page, or directly from our San Francisco Property Information Map by entering your address or Assessor's Lot and Block number and click the "Zoning" tab.
Other Things To Consider
In addition to the zoning district and land use regulations in the San Francisco Planning Code, your application will also be reviewed under provisions in all of San Francisco's Municipal Codes, the San Francisco General Plan, and Department policies based on a number of criteria (e.g. the historical significance of your property, the environmental impact of your project, or other regulations).
Pre-Application Process & Neighborhood Notification requirements
Opening a massage establishment in a Neighborhood Commercial (NC) zoning district requires Neighborhood Notification, a process where the Planning Department mails a notice alerting neighbors and neighborhood groups in the vicinity of your proposed project and they are given a period of 30 days to respond with concerns or to request a Discretionary Review (DR). Depending on the scope of your project, you may also need to provide a "Pre-Application Notice" to nearby neighbors, and/or you may need to hold a "Pre-Application Meeting." The triggers for the Pre-Application Process are explained in the Pre-Application Information Packet.
Massage uses require "Conditional Use Authorization" (CU)
For each activity or use of land in any given zoning district, the San Francisco Planning Code states if that activity or use is either: Permitted; Conditional; or Not Permitted. Zoning districts in San Francisco that allow massage establishments generally require these establishments to obtain a Conditional Use (CU) Authorization Application to operate. Following submittal, your project will be reviewed by the Planning Commission at a public hearing. The Commission must find that the proposed massage business is, among other things, a necessary, desirable, and compatible addition to the neighborhood.
However, there are three exemptions from the CU requirement for massage establishments:
If the proposed massage establishment is within a hospital, a hotel with 100 rooms or more, then a CU is not required.
If the proposed massage establishment is a home-based massage and/or chair massage business (viewable from the public realm) then a CU is not required.
If the proposed massage establishment has certification from the State of California's Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC), it may be exempt. For more information regarding the CAMTC certification requirements, please refer to their website located at www.camtc.org.
Hours of operation & "Conditional Use Authorization" (CU)
Commercial uses in certain districts such as Neighborhood Commercial districts (NCD), Chinatown Mixed Use Districts and specific Downtown Residential Mixed Use Districts may have restrictions on the hours of operation. Depending on the scope of your project and the zoning district of your property, later hours will require a Conditional Use Authorization (CU) or in some cases it may not be permitted.
In some cases, the massage business may not be the principal use of the building (i.e. the primary use may be a housing unit or a large hotel). In Planning terminology, the massage business would then be considered an "accessory use" of the principal use. For more information, download our helpful handout, General Planning Information Bulletin: Accessory Uses for Dwellings.
If your project involves alteration to structure that has been identified (through a Historic Resources Survey or other means) as a historic resource or if the structure is 50 years old or greater then there will most likely be additional materials and process involved in order to determine if the proposed work is appropriate. See our Historic Preservation section to read more about evaluating historic character and the additional procedures that might be required if a historic structure is impacted. Preservation Technical Specialists (planners with specialized training in evaluating impacts on historic resources) at the Planning Information Center (PIC) can help you understand what's allowed on your building. There are regularly scheduled hours where Preservation Technical Specialists are available to help you at the PIC, click here for more info.
Environmental impact of your project
Projects may require a separate Environmental Evaluation Application depending on the scope of the project. Typically, massage establishments are created by converting another commercial use to a massage use in relatively small spaces. As such, they are usually considered "categorically exempt" from environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and do not require an additional environmental evaluation. You can read a summary of the environmental review process on our Environmental Planning (formerly MEA) web page which includes a list of projects other categorically exempt projects. Contact the PIC if you have questions as to whether your project will require environmental evaluation.
Applying for Your Permit & Paying Fees
Once you have met all the requirements for filing an application with the Health Department, you proceed to the Planning Department to apply for authorization to open the massage establishment. As noted, you will typically be required to obtain CU Authorization. This requires Neighborhood Notification and a public hearing.
The following information must be submitted when applying for a Building Permit to expand a building and/or change the use of a building:
- Construction plans and/or drawings (existing and proposed floor plans are required for change of use projects). See our Plan Submittal Guidelines.
- Neighborhood Notification materials (if required)
- Forms provided in the Pre-Application Packet (if a Pre-Application Meeting is required)
- Forms provided in the Conditional Use Authorization (CU) Application (required only if seeking a Conditional Use Authorization)
Since every project is unique, we have a useful matrix handout, the Permit Application Checklist which explains submittal requirements based on the proposed work as described under "How to Use This Matrix." A checklist of required materials to be submitted with the Building Permit is also included in the Building Permit Application Packet which also describes the Neighborhood Notification process.
To submit a permit, prepare the Building Permit Application and bring it along with all necessary plans and materials as described in the Permit Application Checklist and/or Building Application Packet to the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) at 1660 Mission Street. If you are a new user, we recommend you come to the Planning Information Center (PIC) also at 1660 Mission Street before proceeding to DBI.
Permit fees are based on the construction cost of your project. To estimate permit fees, the Planning Department's fee schedule is available online. We also have a fee calculator for Building Permits reviewed by the Planning Department. If you have any questions, please stop by or call the Planning Information Center (PIC) staff at (415) 558-6377. Depending on your location and project type, impact fees may be required for new construction. Contact the PIC to see if these requirements apply to your property. Please note this is for the Planning Department's review fees only. Fees for review by the Building Department are available here. You may also call DBI at 558-6088.
Don't forget: Should the cost of staff time exceed the initial fee you paid, it is possible an additional fee for time and materials may be billed upon completion of the permit review process. Additional fees may also be collected for preparation and recordation of any documents with the San Francisco Assessor-Recorder’s office and for monitoring compliance with any conditions of approval.
Permit Review Process
If you have already visited the Planning Information Center (PIC) at 1660 Mission Street and you are confident you have all the correct materials for your Building Permit Application, your next step is to submit your application materials & fees listed in Applying for My Permit & Paying Fees to the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) at 1660 Mission Street.
After initial screening of your application by DBI, the Planning Department will review the application to confirm it is complete for Planning Department requirements. If information is missing, or if corrections are needed, you will be asked to return with that information. Planners at the Planning Information Center (PIC) will review the application to determine if it complies with the San Francisco Planning Code (view the code online) and is consistent with the additional regulations detailed above in Understanding What's Allowed under "Other Things to Consider." If so, the application will be taken in and routed to an assigned planner at the Planning Department.
3. Plan Review
If a Conditional Use Authorization (CU) has already been granted and Neighborhood Notification has already occurred in combination with the CU notice, the Building Permit Application could be approved over-the-counter by the Planning Department so long as the proposed work under this Building Permit Application is consistent with the proposed work that received CU approval. You would then proceed to the other agencies listed in Step 4 that will need to act on your permit. (Note, in most cases the Planning Department policy calls for the planner who had worked on the CU to approve the related building permit application). If Neighborhood Notification has not yet occurred, the application will be taken in and routed to the Planning Department.
Neighborhood Notification entails mailing an announcement of your project to neighbors and neighborhood groups so that they, or any person, may voice concerns they have over the proposal or so that they may request a Discretionary Review (a hearing seeking denial of the project or changes to the proposal before the San Francisco Planning Commission). The permit is held by Planning for a 30-day period from the date of mailed notification to allow adequate time for public review of the proposal. During the notification period, any person may ask the San Francisco Planning Commission to exercise its power of Discretionary Review over the Building Permit Application.
You will meet with review staff from different departments as directed by DBI, who will check your construction documents to verify the proposed construction will meet the various City Municipal Codes (view all codes online). Staff from the following departments will check a typical Building Permit for massage use:
- Department of Building Inspection (DBI)
- Department of Public Health
Other agencies may be involved depending on the scope of your project.
When all the reviews are complete, the permit will be issued, and you can begin work. Note, there is a 15-day period after Building Permit issuance in which any party may appeal the permit to the Board of Appeals.
Inspections of permitted work is the responsibility of the Department of Building Inspection. DBI's Inspection Services page explains their inspection function.
Applications & Handouts
Applications Mentioned On This Page
- Pre-Application Notification Packet
- Conditional Use Authorization (CU) Application
- Environmental Evaluation Application