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Hundreds of property owners have yet to comply with seismic retrofit deadlines

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Department of Building Inspection Director Tom Hui, showing an example of a placard that may be placed in front a property that does not comply with the retrofit program. (Michael Toren/S.F. Examiner)

Hundreds of San Francisco property owners required to seismically retrofit their buildings have yet to file for permits before next week’s deadline, city officials said Thursday.

The city launched a mandatory retrofit program in 2013 for older, wood-framed multi-family buildings with a “soft story” — typically a ground floor with large open space for a garage or commercial use.

“After the 1989 earthquake we saw all of our soft stories in the Marina collapse. That’s how this soft story program got into play,” City Administrator Naomi Kelly said at an event in Russian Hill to publicise the upcoming deadline.

Many vulnerable citizens live in rental units, she said, and the program will help ensure they can stay in their homes after a major earthquake.

Nearly 5,000 buildings fall under the retrofit program, and they have been split into four tiers based on building occupancy, said William Strawn, a spokesperson for the Department of Building Inspection.

The program is structured with staggered deadlines. On Sept. 15 each year a new tier is required to file a permit application with plans for the retrofit work. Building owners then have two years to complete the work. Tier 1’s filing deadline was in 2015.

The permit filing date for Tier 4, the final tier, is next week.

City official said Thursday that most properties in the program have filed permits, and nearly half of them have already completed the retrofit work. But 175 of the properties in Tier 2 have yet to finish their retrofit work before their Sept. 15 deadline this year, and 367 of the property owners in Tier 4 have yet to make next week’s permit filing deadline.

Tom Hui, director of the Department of Building Inspection, said properties that do not comply will have placards posted in front of the building.

“It says the building is unsafe, and then your tenant will not pay you rent,” he said.

If a building is still out of compliance, the matter will be referred to the City Attorney’s office and the property owner will face unspecified fines.

“Lots of people say, what are the charges and things? I don’t know,” said Hui. “The longer you wait, the attorney will charge you more and more.” Failure to comply could lead to a lien on the property and, in an extreme case, the property owner could eventually lose their building, he said.

But he added that the department wants to work with property owners who are facing challenges.

“We want them to comply,” he said. “If they have difficulty, come to our office … and we can discuss it.”

The full list of properties covered by the program and their status can be found on the Department of Building Inspection’s website.

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