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Code Summary

Permitted Activities
Drawing the Line


Joint Living and Working Quarters (JLWQ), a term unique to Oakland although derived from California State Law (17958.11), is a type of live/work. Live/work is by nature mixed-use, as its name implies. Building codes, and specifically The Uniform Building Code (UBC), divide all uses into "occupancies"; such as commercial, residential, manufacturing, assembly, hazardous, etc. Under the UBC, mixed occupancies such as live/work, which is a combination of residential and commercial, require a physical separation in the form of a fire wall (or floor/ceiling) between the two occupancies. Through interpretation of how to best combine commercial and residential provisions, and through relaxations permitted by Section17958.11, this code was developed over ten years, and first adopted on January 1, 1996, now revised for 1999. Central to the new code is that occupancy separations between living and working portions of units are not required. In exchange for this relaxation, the types of activities and the quantities of hazardous materials stored or used within a unit are limited by the Live/Work Code.

In the last year, Oakland has adopted a new General Plan. Within the next two years, Zoning Regulations will be adopted to reflect this change in the city’s priorities. It is likely that live/work will be treated more fully than it is in Oakland’s present Zoning Regulations, and that new construction live/work -- not now permitted -- will be allowed in some situations. The 1999 Live/Work Building Code was written with this in mind: F-8 and R-8 occupancies specifically address New Construction.

Because of live/work’s unique hybrid nature, its treatment by both zoning and building officials is intermingled far more than would be typical of the two uses. Zoning historically governs land use and addresses issues such as where a building is located, how it relates to its context, how it looks on the outside, and what occurs in it. For example, as is the case in Oakland, zoning governs what percentage of a unit can be "live" and what can be "work". Building regulations govern life safety issues, and have specific, hard rules (The Building Code) about structural and fire safety as well as myriad other aspects of actual physical construction. The following two sections summarize Oakland’s live/work zoning and building regulations in turn. Overlap between the two is significant.



Presently, live/work in Oakland is only permitted in buildings "originally designed, constructed [and completed]" for commercial or industrial purposes. New construction of live/work is not currently permitted in Oakland, although the Oakland Code does provide for future adoption of such provisions as F-8 and R-8 occupancy. However, Oakland’s planning regulations do contain a broad and very useful Home Occupation provision which permits anyone to work at home as long as they don’t have employees, walk-in trade, or generate noises or odors perceivable beyond their property line. Some developers in Oakland have successfully built new buildings in live/work spatial configuration complying entirely with residential code. Such construction, or the regulation of it, is not treated here.

Oakland’s "Joint Living and Working Quarters" are defined as units constructed under Section 7020 of the Zoning Regulations and complying with the criteria summarized in the chart below.

Projects which conform with 7020 are not required to provide any new off-street parking, nor do they require any open space.

To further clarify Section 7020, the Zoning Division has issued an interpretation which seeks to clarify required attributes of spaces. Following is a chart summarizing it.

Zoning Criteria For Joint Live/Work Quarters:
1 Size Minimum 660 sq. ft.
2/3 Work/live ratio 67/33 (25% of work can be dual purpose)
4 Number of occupants 2 per 300 sq. ft., + 150 sq. ft. for each additional occupant. Total not to exceed 10. Minimum live portion not to exceed 220 sq. ft.



The Oakland Live/Work Building Code describes two types of live/work space: live/work (R-7) and work/live (F-7). Live/work is aimed at those where residence is the primary activity. Therefore R-7 more closely resembles the residential building code, while making provisions for low-impact work activities. Conversely, F-7, while surprisingly similar to R-7 in many ways, makes provisions for more intense work activities, through requiring heavier floor-loading capacity, more sound insulation between units (and less from outside sound), and higher tolerance for storage and use of hazardous materials.

A word about new construction: while Oakland’s Zoning Regulations do not permit new, purpose-built live/work, in anticipation that it will be permitted in the future, the Live/Work Code contains provisions for new construction live/work (R-8) and work/live (F-8).

The letters "R" and "F" used in the code refer to the underlying occupancy: i.e. "R" is residential occupancy and "F" is industrial occupancy. All forms of live/work are a mixture of residential and working activities; to accommodate this, the live/work code was written combining portions of the R and F occupancy requirements from the Uniform Building Code. In cases where any live/work (R-7 or R-8) is not specifically treated in the live/work code, the R (Residential) requirements apply as the "default" and are often referenced in the live/work code. Conversely, in cases where any work/live (F-7 or F-8) is not specifically treated in the live/work code, the F (Industrial) or sometimes B (Office) requirements apply as the "default" and are often referenced in the live/work code. Because residence always occurs in the live/work space, both live/work (R-7/8) and work/live (F-7/8) sections of the live/work code often make reference to residential provisions of the code regarding matters like ventilation and minimum residential facilities.

Live/Work Code "Default" Occupancy Designations
1-2 Units 3+ Units
F-7 or F-8: Work/Live F-1, F-2 or B F-1, F-2 or B
R-7 or R-8: Live/Work R-3 R-1

Units so qualifying as JLWQ are eligible for certain extra relaxations within the Live/Work Building Code, which are:

  1. Seismic retrofit to only 75%, rather than 100%, of today’s code, roughly equivalent to the 1973 code.

  2. Ladder-accessed sleeping mezzanines and built-in sleeping bunks.

  3. Under certain conditions, the mezzanine is permitted to be one-half rather than one-third of the floor area.

  4. Alternate emergency escape and rescue routes (such as specially constructed corridors) in buildings without such provisions, to serve "landlocked" units without bedroom or unit escape windows located on the building exterior.


Permitted Activities

Residence is permitted in all live/work spaces, subject only to the limitations provided by the zoning interpretation above. For a residence to be legal in a live/work space, the unit needs to have been built or remodeled according to this or an earlier code as live/work, including the provisions of minimum residential facilities such as heat, hot water, kitchen, bathroom, adequate exiting and bedroom escape openings, all of which are treated in detail below. (Note: If you are reading this and the space you occupy or own is not "legal," you should be aware that the city is not planning to throw you out of your space and has successfully worked with a number of projects in the recent past to bring them up to code with minimal disruption and displacement of occupants.)

Many low impact work activities are permitted in live/work spaces, including: art-making, craft, most small business activities, home office, and just about any work one would reasonably share with one’s residence.

Work activities that are not permitted in all types of live/work spaces include (with exceptions): drinking and dining establishments (i.e. bars and restaurants); take-out food shops; animal hospitals, kennels and pounds ; auto showrooms; banks; courthouses; civic administration; medical facilities; dry cleaners and laundromats; fire and police stations; post offices; and uses similar to the above.

What distinguishes work/live space, as noted above, is the predominance of work activity. (See the chart of differences for more on this.)Work/live spaces are intended to accommodate typical commercial uses, meaning that employees and walk-in trade are present. Higher hazard activities according to Table 339B-A in the Live/Work code are permitted. Due to the nature of the expected activities in work/live spaces, handicap accessibility as would be normal in a commercial space is required (unless employees and walk-in trade are specifically limited), floor loading standards are heavier, and noise transmission between units are subject to quantitative performance standards. which means that if you intend to generate loud noises or music regularly, you must provide appropriate types of sound-proofing, etc.

All types of live/work uses also do not permit hazardous occupancies within the same "common atmosphere" as the living portion, i.e. in a live-with™. This includes the storage of hazardous material beyond a certain level (live/work and work/live have different thresholds, to be detailed later, see Table 338B-A), or certain hazardous activities such as welding or operating a wood shop with more than three permanently fixed woodworking appliances (i.e. table saw, planer, joiner, drill press, etc.). The use of open flame is also more strictly limited in live/work spaces, as detailed below. It is usually possible to accommodate hazardous activities in work spaces within a live/work building, as long as they are separated properly. However, the work activity would need to be permitted in this zone. For example, a full wood shop with a dozen pieces of fixed equipment may not be permitted under zoning regulations in a residential neighborhood.

Assembly occupancy, meaning places where 50 or more people gather, are not permitted within live/work units. They can, like others above, be accommodated in live/work buildings or projects when separated in accordance with the Uniform Building Code Table 3-B. Educational activities other than the teaching of six (6) people above the twelfth grade level are not permitted within a live/work unit.


Drawing the Line

Even though the dividing line between where "living" and "working" activities occur in a live/work space is often very fluid (particularly in a live/with unit), the Live/Work Code requires an applicant to designate, on the permit drawings, the two types of space: "Designated Residential Area" is the living portion where one eats, sleeps, bathes, etc.; "Designated Work Area" is where one carries on work activity. The code does acknowledge that there are cases of multiple uses of space. This is called "Dual Purpose Space." In a JLWQ, W = 67% minimum, and L = 33% maximum. Since 25% of Work Space can be dual purpose, the net result can be 51% work space and 49% live-with dual purpose space.

In order to be sure that all applicants are clear on what they are proposing to build and what they will end up with, the City has included in the Code a checklist called "Additional Information Required on Plans and Specifications." These items are covered in detail in the Code section of this website.

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