City Data: More Than 1,500 Housing Code Violations in S.F. Mission

San Francisco firefighters battle a four-alarm blaze in a building at 22nd and Mission streets on Jan. 28, 2015.

San Francisco firefighters battle a four-alarm blaze in a mixed residential and commercial building at 22nd and Mission streets on Jan. 28, 2015. One person died and more than 60 others were displaced by the fire. (Rebecca Bowe/KQED)

Inspectors found 1,564 housing code violations in more than 150 residential buildings in San Francisco’s Mission District during the 2014-15 fiscal year, according to a first-of-its-kind city study.

Conditions in the Mission’s residential buildings have drawn wide attention in the wake of a series of apartment fires — two of them involving fatalities over the past 18 months.

“The Mission historically has had a difficult housing stock to maintain, so we’ve always had a high number of violations in the Mission,” said senior housing inspector James Sanbonmatsu in an interview. “But, we didn’t realize it was this many.”

The Department of Building Inspection will deliver the data to a Board of Supervisors committee during a hearing on Wednesday.

The department reviewed a year’s worth of violation notices issued for residential units in the district between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2015.

The violations ranged from collapsed ceilings, unsafe heaters, broken stairs and expired fire extinguishers to mold, pest infestations and unabated lead paint. They included fire safety issues like ensuring that smoke detectors and fire escapes were working, as well as ensuring exits were not blocked in case of a fire.

Many were along the 24th Street and Mission Street corridors.

The agency says about one in five of the housing code violations it issued in the Mission were considered serious safety problems. According to the data, four in five of all the identified problems were corrected.

But it took some work. The agency issued 215 notices of violation on 152 properties in the Mission during 2014-15. It issued financial penalties on close to five dozen of them, which included rent reductions for tenants. It referred nine cases to the city attorney’s office that led to lawsuits.

The data portray “an intense effort in the Mission to make sure that code violations are repaired and corrected,” Sanbonmatsu said.  “All that pressure builds up and the landlords have to make the repairs.”

The department said it can’t yet supply comparable data for the rest of San Francisco, but added it’s working on a citywide analysis.

Landlords say complying with the code is their highest priority.

Leaders of the San Francisco Apartment Association say since a deadly January 2015 fire at Mission and 22nd streets, their organization has intensified a focus on fire safety and code compliance.

“We have focused outreach in the Mission area in recent months,” said the organization’s president, Janan New, and its spokesman, Charley Goss, in a joint emailed statement.

They say the vast majority of the buildings their members manage are rent-controlled and were built between 1890 and 1960.

“The overwhelming majority of the apartment buildings citywide, rather than just the Mission, were built in these years and to these building codes,” the statement said.

The Department of Building Inspection report comes as the city resumes efforts to improve fire safety weeks after a five-alarm fire in the Bernal Heights neighborhood displaced dozens of residents.

The Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee will receive the building inspection data and get an update on that blaze during a hearing on Wednesday.

The hearing was called by Supervisor David Campos, who recently unveiled a set of fire safety measures.

The Fire Department has repeatedly tried to calm neighborhood concerns about the rising number of fires in the Mission in the last few years.

Late last year it released data that showed over the last few years only one significant fire was the result of arson.

Wednesday’s hearing will also get an update from the Fire Department on its backlog of investigations.

A year ago, more than 300 investigations, some four years old, remained open. A department spokesman reported this week that the backlog now stands at 140 cases.

  • TimDoyle

    Thank you Ted for the reporting.

  • sugarntasty

    Resolution impose fines, assurance be corrected not neglected! SFAA,BOMA S.F and Thelpa S.F aware safety procedures, tenants stop being meek they can’t retaliate. Inform license inspections of (safety violations)…horrible when shall next fire located? Same neighborhoods!

Author

Ted Goldberg

Ted Goldberg is the morning editor for KQED News. His beat areas include San Francisco politics, the city's fire department and the Bay Area's refineries.

Prior to joining KQED in 2014, Ted worked at CBS News and WCBS AM in New York and Bay City News and KCBS Radio in San Francisco. He graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1998.

You can follow him at @TedrickG and reach him on email at tgoldberg@kqed.org

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