Subdivision and Condominium Conversion

Here are brief descriptions of the most common types of subdivisions.

Legal subdivision is the process of turning one parcel of property into two or more smaller parcels. This process is regulated by state and local law and administered primarily by local (i.e. county, city or town) governments. There are several different subdivision processes that each result in a different kind of parcel. Here are brief descriptions of the most common types of subdivisions.

A “Lot Split” results in completely independent lots. Occasionally, these lots may share some elements, such as open space, a dividing wall, a stairway etc., in which case there will be one or more easements and/or maintenance agreements governing the shared elements.

A “Planned Development” results in lots that share more common elements than those resulting from a Lot Split (e.g. streets, lighting, recreational areas), and where an association of owners has the power to collect money from each lot for upkeep of the shared elements.

A “Condominium Project” results in lots (typically called units) that share even more common elements than those resulting from a Planned Development. Condominium units typically share roofs, walls, foundations, underlying land, and elements of plumbing and electrical systems. As with a Planned Development, there is an owners association with the power to collect money from each lot for the upkeep of the shared elements.

Subdivision can occur while the land is vacant, while construction is under way, or after buildings are already built. When subdivision occurs after buildings are built and have been occupied, it is called “Conversion”, and is often governed by a different, and more restrictive set of laws.

The Law of Subdivision and Condominium Conversion

In California, two state laws govern subdivision of real estate: The Subdivided Lands Act, and The Subdivision Map Act. The Subdivided Lands Act is a consumer protection law for the benefit of the buyers of homes and condominiums that result from subdivisions. For subdivisions involving five or more homes or condos, it requires that a state agency, the California Department of Real Estate or “DRE”, review and approve many elements of the subdivision. The Subdivision Map Act contains technical requirements for subdivisions and, more importantly, gives local governments the power to regulate and prohibit subdivisions. It is because of the Map Act that a city government can, for example, prohibit all condominium conversion, or require that converters comply with difficult or expensive preconditions. Since the Subdivision Map Act gives local governments the primary authority to regulate and control the subdivision process, people that want to do subdivisions are primarily dealing with local law and local government agencies.

The Process of Subdivision and Condominium Conversion

To understand the subdivision process, it is useful to break it into two parts: mapping and legal documentation. The mapping part of the subdivision process involves submitting a drawing showing the proposed subdivision, along with an application package and fee, to a local governmental agency that will then process the application. After the application is approved, the mapping process ends with the recording of the approved map in the county records. The legal documentation part of the subdivision process involves creating documents that organize the relationship among the owners of the subdivided parcels. At a minimum, these documents describe how the parts of the subdivision that are shared by more than one lot will be maintained, and provide a mechanism for paying for this maintenance. Often, the documents go much further, creating an association of owners, limiting what can be constructed or changed on the lots, and imposing rules of conduct. Depending on the size and location of the subdivision, these legal documents may or may not be reviewed by a governmental agency; but, in all cases, the documents are recorded in the county records so that they govern all of the subdivided lots for many years or in perpetuity.

SirkinLaw’s Subdivision and Condominium Conversion Services

Although many of our practice areas involve properties throughout the US and the world, we limit the geographical reach of our subdivision and conversion services. We assist with the local subdivision application process only for conversions and new construction in San Francisco, and we offer subdivision legal documentation only for properties in California. To learn more about condo conversion and new construction subdivision legal services we offer, visit Our Services.

The largest component of our subdivision services is San Francisco condominium conversion. SirkinLaw has performed the most San Francisco condo conversions by far. We offer both full-service condominium conversion and “do it yourself” condo conversion support, each with an exclusive, full-time conversion expert at your disposal to help with every step in the process. Attorney Rosemarie MacGuinness leads our San Francisco condo conversion team. Please call Rosemarie to discuss your conversion today at 415-839-6406.

Learn More About Condominium Conversion in San Francisco

This page is a gateway to many articles concerning condominium conversion in San Francisco. Note that the sale of a parcel of real estate as a tenancy in common (TIC) with exclusive occupancy rights is neither a subdivision nor a conversion, and is not discussed on this page.

Condominium Conversion Eligibility

Learn which buildings are eligible for condominium conversion in San Francisco, and get the tools you need to determine whether you qualify to convert to condos.

Condominium Conversion Procedures

Learn to navigate the condominium conversion process. How does one start a conversion? What types of professionals are needed? How long does conversion take, and how much does it cost? What can go wrong in a condominium conversion, and how can you prevent mistakes and delays?

Condominium Documents

Learn what is typically included in condominium governing documents such as CC&Rs, Bylaws, and Articles of Incorporation, and what is different about documents for smaller associations and documents for mixed-use properties (with both residential and commercial units).

Starting and Operating A Condominium Homeowners Association

Understand what is needed after the conversion process is completed to successfully start your condominium owners association. Learn what government and tax filings are required, how to open bank accounts, how to hold the first meeting, and how to begin to collect assessments from the owners.

The Law of Condominium Conversion

Explore California and San Francisco law relating to subdivision and condominium conversion.