How to convert garages into higher income spaces in residential zoning?

4 Replies

Hi BP, 

I'm in contract to buy my first 4-plex, which has 2 underused accessory buildings that I would like to turn into money makers. One is a row of 5 garages, the other is a row of 4 storage units. The property is in a residential zone, so I'm told I can't convert them into any commercial space such as artist studios, offices, etc. But I KNOW I could make more out of them if I could rent them as finished space, rather than as garage/storage. 

Any ideas on how I could creatively renovate and market these spaces for $$? 



Ideas I've considered: 

* Rent them as "hobby space" for artist studios, workshops, or man caves, clearly stating in the ads and lease that no commercial use is allowed. 

* Turn garages into a 1BR loft-style apartment. Leave storage units as-is.  

* Finish the spaces and attach them to the current apartments as bonus rooms and charge higher rent (once current tenants move out).

Hi Geneva, I don't know your area, but have you spoken to anyone at your county regarding a special use permit, variance, or anything like that? I've lived in VA, NC, and now live in TX, and all offer something along those lines. You might give it a shot, as there's usually something that can be done. I'm not saying it'll necessarily be simple, but something to look into nonetheless.

Hi Chad. I'm in Berkeley, Ca -- perhaps the most restricted market there is! I visited our local planning department today, explained my question, and they gave me a list of permitted uses. I expect they are the usual uses permitted in a residential area: child care center, clubs/lodge, community care center, library, religious assembly. For an accessory building I'm basically limited to child care. I haven't yet consulted a local architect, who might know better how to finesse the restrictions.

On the planning website it looks like I can apply for a "Use Permit (Public Hearing)," but I don't think that's what you're suggesting. "Variances" seem more obscure. They appear in applications that I can access, but I can't find any general info yet...

Hi Geneva,

I am actively looking for a 1-4 unit in oakland or berkeley and I'd be really interested in hearing how this value-add works out so please keep us updated. I'm actually an architect but I work in San Francisco so the only help I can offer is for spatial planning, layout etc if you need friendly advice. 

Good luck!

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