Nuisance fee targets dirty city buildings

Bed bugs, mold, garbage left piling up. If these nuisances are not eliminated, landlords could soon be socked with $1,000-a-day fines.

The Public Health Department is pushing tougher enforcement powers to ensure apartment buildings and single-room occupancy hotels remain nuisance free.

Dr. Rajiv Bhatia, The City’s director of environmental health, said cockroaches, rats and bed bugs, among other problems, “cause tenants stress.”

Legislation introduced by Supervisor John Avalos would allow the Public Health Department to fine landlords who fail to address such nuisances in a timely manner. It would require building owners to register and provide contact information so the department can more easily track down the landlord. Today, the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee is slated to vote on the legislation. The full board is expected to vote on the bill a week later, on Tuesday.

Currently the only recourse for The City is to take landlords to court — a time consuming process — and a court cannot fine the landlord either, Bhatia said.

The legislation has drawn opposition from the San Francisco Apartment Association, a group representing landlords.

“They don’t need this. It’s just a piling on by the Department of Public Health,” said Janan New, executive director of the association. “Bed bugs are a national epidemic. They can’t be the sole responsibility of rental-housing providers.”

However, Bhatia said the legislation does allow the department “to hold the tenant and the landlord jointly responsible.”

The board will vote on the legislation amid recent reports that bed-bug cases are increasing in San Francisco and throughout the nation. In The City, there were 373 reported cases in 2007 and 537 in 2009; there have been 501 so far this year. Sometimes tenants will not allow a pest company to enter the unit to eradicate the pests, or tenants themselves could be at fault for bringing in the unwanted pests. There are cases when landlords refuse to act or “do superficial treatment.”

“We’ve got 99 percent of landlords fixing things in a timely way. We got 1 or 2 percent who are not. We’ve got to hurry them up,” Bhatia said.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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