Costs, lack of regulation could hamper retrofitting

Property owners may have an easier time shoring up the most seismically vulnerable points of San Francisco’s structures with new legislation introduced today.Tenants and landlords alike, however, are wary that a costly and unregulated effort at mandatory retrofitting is the next phase of The City’s blueprint.

Tens of thousands of San Francisco buildings have been at risk for decades of collapsing in the event of a major earthquake because of “soft-story” wood-frame construction, in which upper floor apartments are supported with a frame weakened by garage door openings or glass store fronts.

At a news conference Monday, Mayor Gavin Newsom announced legislation that would expedite the permit process and waive fees for property owners who invest thousands of dollars in seismic retrofitting for “soft-story” buildings. It goes before the Board of Supervisors today.

But many issues have been left unresolved, said Sean Pritchard, director of the San Francisco Apartment Association.

The group has been working with The City for years on a community seismic safety initiative and Pritchard said mandatory renovations have been discussed.

“Incentives are a good thing,” Pritchard said. “But there are unforeseen costs ahead of us and we should just be sure we’re not diving into this.”

Asked whether seismic retrofitting would be required in The City, Newsom said, “It’s a possibility, but we’re going to start here first.”

Much of the costs of seismic upgrade construction would be passed on to tenants, said Ted Gullickson of the SF Tenant’s Union, causing rents to go even higher.

Another problem is that seismic renovation is overseen only by the Department of Building Inspection. There is no certificate to show a prospective tenant whether the apartment they’re about to inhabit is reinforced.

“Unless they do their homework, by going down and researching, there’s no way to know,” said Department of Building Inspection Director Isam Hasenin.

That poses a problem for Gullickson who said landlords already rent apartments without being completely honest.

“Whether it’s because you’re over a garage or on loose soil,disclosure requirements for landlords are pretty weak.”

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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