DBI turns up heat on scofflaw landlords

The City is cracking down on building owners who ignore building codes, which sometimes results in tenants living in squalid conditions.

In a last-ditch effort to clean up the most outstanding cases, the Department of Building Inspection is hoping to nail building owners on delinquent fines by putting liens on their property.

The most heavily fined landlord, and one of only two repeat offenders on an annual list turned over to the Board of Supervisors, was cited for a series of hazards such as deteriorating wood stairs, damaged ceilings, broken window panes, inoperable water lines to toilets, a lack of hot and cold water, and units with broken heaters, according to department records. The woman, who owns the residential building in the 3600 block of Treat Avenue, was fined more than $3,400. Other violators were cited for violations such as unsanitary living conditions and broken locks.

Last week, 62 cases where building owners have failed to pay fines connected with building code violations were turned over to the Board of Supervisors. Once approved by the board the fines would be added to owners fall tax bill.

“This is a tool that we use to encourage property owners to make timely repairs that effect not only building occupants but the surrounding neighborhood and communities,” said Rosemary Bosque, the Department of Building Inspection’s chief housing inspector.

For the last 12 years the department has checked for violations of city building, housing, plumbing, electrical and mechanical codes along with disability access regulations. If the problems are not fixed and the fines are not paid within the year the landlords’ cases are turned over to the supervisors.

The fines, which are based on city employee time used for a case and interest accrued after 30 days of noncompliance. The landlord’s names are not added to the list until at least one hearing has been held with the department and two more after the list is submitted to the supervisors who turn the debt over to a tax collector.

Extreme building code violations are dealt with seriously by the District Attorney’s Office, according to spokesman Matt Dorsey.

“We take a very aggressive stand on that,” he said. “There are multiple reasons why this is important to a city. It’s about protecting the health and safety of tenants. It’s about protecting the market place. The majority of landlords do obey the laws and it's not fair to those who do that these people skirt the laws.”

During the process the department is able to get a number of the violations fixed. This year there were 111 cases initially that were cut down to 62 on the final list. The violators’ fines total about $50,000, which is about average compared to previous years, according to Bosque.

“The bottom line here is to get people into compliance so the living conditions are improved,” said William Strawn, the department’s communication manager.

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