In San Francisco, It’s Illegal to Store Your Own Stuff in Your Own Garage

San Francisco is plagued with thousands of scofflaws. Their crime? Storing anything that isn’t a car in their garage.

According to Chapter 6 of the San Francisco Housing Code, “Private and public storage garages in apartment houses and hotels shall be used only for storage of automobiles.” Failing to comply with the law can lead to fines of up to $500.

The law is particularly silly since many San Franciscans are proud cyclists. Take Kimberly Conley. She has a home in the Mission District with her husband, but no car. Because of the city’s code, she’s technically breaking the law every time she stores her bike in her garage:

It’s absolutely ridiculous, especially in San Francisco, where storage space is at a premium—you expect to be able to do with your garage whatever you need to do with it. If you’re not going to use your garage for a car, it should be your space to do as you please.

Fortunately, Supervisor Mark Farrell will soon introduce legislation to repeal the garage storage ban. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, this supervisor will be on a mission “to clear any unnecessary laws from San Francisco’s books and to tweak laws that need updating.” Farrell is also calling upon citizens to suggest reforms and to scour the city’s code, looking for outdated and harmful laws to scrap.

They’ll have their work cut out for them. San Francisco isn’t exactly a city known for protecting property rights and economic liberty. To name just a few examples:

  • Back in June, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to make doing business much more difficult for food trucks, even though they’ve been creating new jobs. Food trucks can now face fines of up to $5,000 per day for a violation, like vending for four days at one spot or being too close to a restaurant—say, 74 feet instead of 75.
  • The city’s rent control policies have weakened the incentive to build more housing units in San Francisco, which has a median rent of over $3,400 a month. Last year, only 126 housing units were added.
  • San Francisco has been fighting to widen and enforce a 15 percent “transient occupancy” tax on house and apartment rentals arranged through Airbnb, the innovative company that allows homeowners to rent their space to travelers when they’re not using it. That tax has traditionally been levied on hotels. But short-term rentals are quite different from staying at a hotel. Not to mention higher taxes could weaken tourist demand. An economic impact survey found that Airbnb contributed $56 million in taxes to San Francisco.

If you or anyone you know wants San Francisco to reform its laws, you can leave a (polite) comment on the relevant section of the San Francisco Code.

— Nick Sibilla
Nick Sibilla is a writer at the Institute for Justice

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