Though San Francisco landlords first learned in 2013 that they'd be required to conform to a new seismic safety standard that includes retrofitting of so-called "soft-story" buildings, it appears that many would rather ignore the law than comply, as owners of a significant number of these deemed-dangerous structures have missed a final deadline to get their retrofit show on the road.
We've been talking about soft-story buildings since at least 2013, when the San Francisco Public Press used Department of Building Inspection records kept since 2009 to map the city's soft-story structures.
(Soft-story buildings, if you've been living under a pile of quake rubble, are typically wood-framed multi-unit dwellings where the ground floor is a garage or other open space without much structural support. If you're scratching your head thinking "hmm, isn't that a lot of buildings in SF?" well, yes, that's the point.)
In September 2014, after the city's Mandatory Soft Story Retrofit Program went into effect, the city started shaming building owners who'd failed to take the first step — a multi-page questionnaire — in the process. Buildings with 15 or more units had to file plans and permits for their retrofits by mid-September 2016, and buildings with five-15 units have their deadline today...and many seem poised to miss it.
The Ex reports today that "property owners of 769 buildings required to comply have yet to submit their permits" as of Thursday. Will today be like tax day at the post office, with hundreds of procrastinators waiting until the last possible second to file plans for the repairs?
If so, the DBI seems ready, with a spokesperson telling the Ex that “We received a substantial number of compliance applications and plans this past week, and look forward to having the remaining non-compliant owners come in today and tomorrow; we are ready to receive these.”
Of course, procrastination is perhaps understandable when you consider that the work is estimated to cost landlords between $50,000 and $200,000. However, those costs can be passed on to tenants (even those under rent control), so it's not like they're out of pocket for that cash forever. And keep in mind that today is just the deadline to submit plans, as landlords have until September 2019 to make the repairs. Assuming the Big One doesn't come level things before then, ha ha! (I don't actually think this is funny, as my husband lives in one of the still-scofflawed structures. That's a nervous laugh, not one of mirth.)
But while 769 uncompliant buildings is not great, it's still better than the number August 1, when 1500 were still plan-free. According to the Ex, "about 262 new applications were submitted" this week alone, but that still leaves a lot to process today.
If you think you might live in an soft-story building and are wondering if yours is on the naughty or nice list, the DBI has a handy map here you can use or a list of properties here. Or you can just wait for the next wave of enforcement, a big angry "Earthquake Warning" placard that'll be affixed to the front of your home.
Update: Since there's been a lot of chat in the comments about the impact the cost pass-along has on tenants, I thought I'd add some more information about that.s DBI has this page "for tenants" but you'll see that there's barely any information and that several of the links dead-end at "page not founds." That's because, the DBI tells me, they're links that go to Rent Board pages that no longer work, and they can't control the Rent Board so there's nothing they can do. Not great, guys! ANYWAY. Here's what the Rent Board says:
For seismic work that is required by law (and other work required by laws enacted after November 14, 2002), 100% of the capital improvement cost may be passed through to the tenants, regardless of the number of units in the property. Such increases are subject to an annual limitation of $30.00 or 10% of the tenant's petition base rent, whichever is greater. The amortization period for this work is 20 years.
The capital improvement passthrough does not become part of the tenant's base rent and must be discontinued at the end of the applicable amortization period. If the landlord fails to discontinue the passthrough at the proper time, the landlord is liable to the tenant for the overpayments.
This is also important to note: There's a financial hardship petition you can submit to the city. "There is no time limitation for a tenant hardship appeal from a decision based on a capital improvement petition filed after February 20, 2003," the DBI says, and "A tenant need not pay the approved rent increase while his or her hardship appeal is being processed and considered."
It took a little digging, but I found the hardship form here (my suggestion is that you download it now, as it seems like a lot of rent board links get killed off). Per the form:
A tenant can qualify for hardship relief under any one of the three standards below:
(1) All adults in the household are low-income recipients of means-tested public assistance, such as Social Security Supplemental Security Income (SSI), General Assistance (GA), Personal Assisted Employment Services (PAES), CalFresh (SNAP/Food Stamps) or California Work Opportunity & Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKS).
(2) (a) The monthly rent charged for the unit is greater than 33% of the tenant’s monthly gross household income;
AND (b) the tenant’s assets, excluding retirement accounts and non-liquid assets, do not exceed $60,000; AND (c) the tenant’s monthly gross household income (before taxes) is less than the following amount [revised as of 4/14/17]:
Maximum Monthly Gross Income per Household Size
(household size includes all occupants, regardless of age)
• $5,379 for 1-person household • $8,300 for 5-person household
• $6,150 for 2-person household • $8,917 for 6-person household
• $6,917 for 3-person household • $9,529 for 7-person household
• $7,688 for 4-person household • $10,146 for 8-person household
(3) The tenant has exceptional circumstances that make payment of the rent increase(s) a hardship, such as excessive medical bills.
So, arguably, while the rent increase will definitely have an impact on your wallet, the city has a plan in place (heh, not often I get to write that) to ensure the most vulnerable tenants can remain afloat.