Accessory Units, Signs and Other Applications

Accessory Dwelling Units

Accessory Dwelling Units, also known as Second Dwelling Units, "in-law" or "granny" units, are additional dwellings located on the same lot as a single-family residence which contains separate living/sleeping, sanitary, and cooking facilities. An accessory unit may be located within the principal dwelling or can be in a detached accessory building.  On January 1, 2020 three new State laws went into effect (SB13, AB68,  and AB881 ) regarding accessory dwelling units which voided our current local ordinance. We are currently developing a new ordinance to comply with the state laws but this process will take some time to complete. In the meantime, Planning staff will do our best to answer questions and interpret the new laws for each specific application we receive. Please contact Planning with any questions regarding your specific property.

Junior Second Dwelling Units

Junior Second Unit means an additional, independent living unit which is created through the conversion of an existing bedroom within an existing single-family residential dwelling as part of the single-family use. A Junior Second Unit may be proposed as an alternative to (in lieu of) a Second Dwelling Unit, and subject to similar design and occupancy limitations, but is distinguished from a Second Dwelling Unit as follows:

  • A Junior Second Unit must be established from conversion of an existing bedroom(s) within the existing single family residential dwelling floor area.
  • A Junior Second Unit cannot be created as a direct result of a building addition.
  • A Junior Second Unit is smaller in size than a Second Dwelling Unit, with a maximum size of 500 square feet.
  • A Junior Second Unit may have either independent bathroom facilities or shared facilities with the main residence.
  • A Junior Second Unit does not need to have a full kitchen, but must provide a limited food preparation area.
  • A Junior Second Unit must maintain an internal connection with the main residence, which can be equipped with a double lock
  • A Junior Second Unit does not require additional parking. However, a Junior Second Unit only may be permitted where the primary residence meets the current residential parking standard of two (2) covered parking spaces.

For more information regarding Junior Second Dwelling Units check out our Junior Second Dwelling Unit Handout and fee schedule.

Sign Permits

New commercial business signs intended for public view (e.g., on an exterior business frontage or an interior sign placed within 10 feet of an exterior facing window) are subject to review and approval of a sign permit. Signs composed of professionally manufactured individual letters are generally preferred over hand-painted, box or can signs. For more information regarding Signs, including submittal material, check out our Sign Permit Review Handout and fee schedule.

Outdoor Dining

Public Property

We require an outdoor dining license agreement for businesses that propose to use the public right of way for outdoor seating. A license agreement is issued to the business “owner” at a specific location. A new application must be obtained if the business ownership or business location changes. For more information regarding Outdoor Dining on Public Property check out our Outdoor Dining on Public Property Handout and fee schedule.

Private Property

We require an Administrative Use Permit to establish outdoor eating areas proposed in conjunction with food service establishments, on private property. We require the Use Permit to ensure that outdoor seating for restaurants and cafes does not adversely impact adjacent properties and surrounding neighborhoods. For more information about Outdoor Dining on Private Property check out our Outdoor Dining on Private Property Ordinance and fee schedule.

Kiosks/Food and Beverage Carts

An administrative use permit is required to operate a temporary food and beverage cart use on a commercially developed property. Such uses shall be subject to review and recommendation by the Community Development Director and Public Works Director to assure that the site can accommodate the use and that parking or vehicular circulation issues would not result. For more information about Food and Beverage Carts and Kiosks check out our Food and Beverage Carts and Kiosks handout and fee schedule.

Home Occupations

The home occupation requirements are from Chapter 14 (the Zoning Ordinance) of the San Rafael Municipal Code. The Zoning Ordinance establishes standards and procedures to ensure that development is consistent with San Rafael’s General Plan. Ordinance section numbers are included to help locate the specific regulations in the Zoning Ordinance. Check out our Home Occupations Handout for the specific standards.


Fences and walls located in the front and street side yard may be up to 4 feet in height provided they do not obstruct vehicle sight distance at driveways or intersections per §14.16.295. Side and rear yard fences may be up to 6 feet without a permit. Fences over 6 feet require an Administrative Design Review Permit. Additional regulations may apply to corner lots. Fences can be tricky and we strongly recommend that you contact the Planning Division for a more complete explanation of Fences and Walls. The Planning Division can be contacted by phone (415) 485-3085, email, or in person. Please check the public hours prior to visiting.

If you can't find information on an application you're looking for here please check the Planning Library or feel free to contact a planner at (415)485-3085 or via email.

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