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City Aims to Shame Landlords to Act

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

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San Francisco officials are wielding a powerful new weapon in their effort to quake-proof buildings: shame.

The city is posting notices on hundreds of apartment buildings this week to warn owners to bring the structures into compliance with a 2013 law, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The signs, in English, Spanish and Chinese, read: "EARTHQUAKE WARNING! This Building is in Violation of the Requirements of the San Francisco Building Code Regarding Earthquake Safety. The owners of this building have not complied with the Mandatory Soft Story Retrofit Program...."

Photos, video: City of San Francisco

"We wanted a poster that drives change and lets people know what's going on," says the city's director of earthquake safety. A building owner fears panic.

That program mandates retrofits for all wood frame buildings permitted for construction before Jan. 1, 1978, with two or more stories over a soft or weak story that contains five or more dwelling units.

Earthquake Odds

The U.S. Geological Survey predicts a 67 percent chance that another large earthquake will strike San Francisco in the next 25 years, the city said in a video it posted earlier this year to raise awareness of the law.

"Ready for the Next Big One" warns San Francisco's property owners to strengthen their buildings now.

"We must secure soft story apartment buildings, some of our City's most vulnerable structures, to make San Franciscans safer and our City resilient," the city said

The program is part of the city's Earthquake Safety Implementation Program (ESIP), a 30-year plan to reduce the impact of earthquakes on San Francisco.

Owners Notified

The first step in the earthquake retrofit initiative occurred Sept. 15, 2013, when the city mailed notices and screening forms to about 6,000 building owners. All property owners or their authorized agent were ordered to have a licensed architect or engineer complete the screening form by Sept. 15, 2014, allowing the owner and the city to see if their building is required to retrofit.

Quake Damage

A 2013 law in San Francisco requires strengthening of wood frame, two-story, multifamily buildings permitted before 1978.

Building owners were also to select their appropriate compliance tier, which sets deadlines for permit applications and completion of work based on occupancy, size, and other factors. Owners were then responsible for those permits and work by the appropriate deadline.

Certain buildings that were improved earlier under a voluntary retrofit program are in compliance with the new law.

650 Holdouts

About 650 owners failed to meet the Monday deadline, the Los Angeles Times reported. It is those owners who will now face fines and the shaming signs.


The U.S. Geological Survey predicts a 67 percent chance that another large earthquake will strike San Francisco in the next 25 years, the city says.

"No California city has gone so far to inform the public about potentially dangerous buildings and pressure property owners to make fixes," the Times says.

"We wanted something that caught people's attention, which I think this very well does," Patrick Otellini, San Francisco's director of earthquake safety, told the newspaper.

"We saw that other programs had been wildly unsuccessful. We wanted a poster that drives change and lets people know what's going on."

One building owner was outraged, however, saying the campaign would put people in "panic mode."

"All you see is the words 'earthquake warning,' " the salon owner told the Times. "It's almost as good as saying, 'Don't come into this building because it's going to collapse.'"



Tagged categories: Building codes; Commercial Construction; Health and safety; Multifamily; Retrofits; Wood

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