Improving San Francisco’s Residential Parking Rules

March 2013
San Francisco Apartment Association

Last year, I authored long-overdue legislation to simplify payment of parking tax by small property owners and to provide an amnesty so that people who were unaware of their tax obligation can come forward, become legal and pay taxes in the future.

For years, many residential property owners did not know that they were required to pay parking tax for renting out even one parking spot to a nonresident. Moreover, the city made it nearly impossible for small property owners even to comply with parking tax requirements. After a recent push by the San Francisco Treasurer/Tax Collector to go after small property owners and seek massive back taxes, penalties and interest--despite the fact that property owners were often unaware they were supposed to collect parking taxes--I introduced, and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed, legislation that clarifies, simplifies and streamlines the parking tax collection process, while providing a partial amnesty for those who have gone years without collecting this tax. The law went into effect on January 1 of this year, and the amnesty runs through June 30, 2013.

Residential property owners in San Francisco who rent out parking spots to nonresidents have always been required to collect parking tax (by contrast, they are not required to do so for tenants who rent spaces). But few, if any, knew that they were required to do so. The few who did try to pay found that the city, by treating small property owners no differently than large parking lot operators, created a large incentive not to pay the tax. For example, a property owner who rented out even a single space to a neighbor was required to: have the same revenue equipment as a large commercial garage; be fingerprinted; have a mug shot taken at the Hall of Justice; post a bond, pay an annual fee that was often larger than the parking tax owed; and make monthly tax payments with complicated reporting forms. Due to this convoluted and opaque process, as well as a lack of public awareness of the tax obligation, the number of property owners who paid the parking tax was very small.

My legislation improves this system by recognizing that small property owners should have simpler and more manageable reporting requirements, and shouldn't be excessively punished for being confused or uninformed about the system. The legislation, which applies to owners who rent up to five spaces to nonresidents, makes several improvements.

First, it significantly streamlines the collection process for small property owners. It requires quarterly reporting and payment (instead of monthly). It waives permit fees and waives other administrative requirements such as posting a bond, being fingerprinted and using revenue equipment. It also requires the San Francisco Tax Collector to use a short, simple form for these taxpayers instead of the more complicated form required of larger parking lot operators.

Second, the legislation provides a partial amnesty to small property owners who come forward and begin complying with the law by June 30 of this year. Those coming forward will be required to pay up to two years worth of back parking taxes, without interest, penalties or fees. The remaining back taxes will be waived. This partial amnesty acknowledges the back taxes owed while also encouraging people to come forward without fear of owing huge amounts of back taxes.

The legislation also eliminates the unenforceable and unreasonable restriction against renting out a space only to people who live within 1,250 feet of the building. Now, the parking renter must simply reside in San Francisco. You can learn more about the new law and access the parking form at the San Francisco Treasurer/Tax Collector's website:

The goal of this legislation is to increase compliance and ensure that all property owners who rent out parking spots to neighbors or others are paying the taxes they owe. By making the process simpler, and by providing a partial amnesty that encourages compliance going forward, we can achieve this goal.

Better Car-Sharing Parking Access
My efforts to make common-sense modifications to existing regulations did not stop with the passage of the parking tax legislation. In September 2012, I introduced legislation to ensure that new housing developments will be able to include car-sharing spaces that are accessible to residents and the general public without counting against the maximum number of parking spots a development is allowed.

Car sharing is a part of the future of transportation in San Francisco. Anyone who follows my work at City Hall knows that I'm a champion of San Francisco's goals of being a transit-first city. This means not only funding a reliable Muni system and providing a safe, extensive bicycle network, but also making sure that people have access to automobiles when they need them. Improving car-sharing opportunities is an essential step in providing this access without requiring private automobile ownership.

In many parts of the city, residential developers are limited to fewer parking spots than the number of housing units (frequently one parking spot per two housing units) in order to promote alternatives to car ownership. Car-sharing spots are lumped in with this maximum parking allotment, despite the fact that they are not associated with any of the housing units and that ready access to car-sharing makes it easier for people to avoid owning a private automobile. A single car-share space can be used by multiple residents, which makes the buildings more attractive to live in for those who don't want a car or can't afford one. Building owners should be rewarded, not punished, for including car-share spaces in their developments.

My legislation will allow for a limited number of additional car-sharing spots to be added on top of the maximum parking allotments under current development regulations. In order to qualify for these additional spots, the developer must show a letter of intent from a registered car-sharing provider to use the space. If the spaces ever stop being used for car-sharing, the spaces can be converted to bike parking or storage space, but not to automobile parking. Also, the car-sharing spaces cannot be restricted to building residents. Finally, only those developments that do not seek a conditional use to expand the number of parking spaces provided will be eligible for increased car-share parking spaces. I expect this legislation to be before the Board of Supervisors soon.

This legislation will allow building owners to provide more residents with access to car-share opportunities, without taking away from their ability to market to residents who want a parking space for their own automobile. This encourages better transportation practices throughout the entire city.

Links: San Francisco Apartment Association Editorial

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