Payment for historic home blaze up in air

The City may have to sue to recover more than $30,000 in damages to San Francisco’s historic Fire Chief’s Residence if the city official who was living there, or the houseguest accused of setting fire to a mattress inside, do not voluntarily pay for the costs of repair.

A report sent to city officials Wednesday by the City Attorney’s Office states that San Francisco employees who have stayed at the residence, including newly appointed Planning Department Director John Rahaim, are not contractually liable for damages because they never signed a lease or housing agreement.

The report was compiled in response to a letter from Supervisor Chris Daly calling for clarification as to how The City uses the home. The report stated that the fire chief is responsible for the maintenance and use of the building, though allowing other city officials to stay there wasn’t against the law.

A man who lived with Rahaim at the Dennis T. Sullivan Memorial Fire Chief’s Home, Lance Farber, is suspected of vandalizing the house and setting fire to a mattress on Feb. 22, according to police. Farber, a chiropractor who was arrested later that evening in San Mateo County on suspicion of driving under the influence and taken to San Francisco jail, was booked on arson and vandalism charges.

Farber had been living in the building, which was built in 1922, with Rahaim under an arrangement organized by the Mayor’s Office, according to Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge. Rahaim, 52, who began working for The City in January, previously worked as planning director for the city of Seattle.

Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White is one of the first to take the Fire Department’s top position and not live at the residence. Two other city employees, MTA Director Nathaniel Ford and Chief Juvenile Probation Director William Sifferman, have lived there since Hayes-White became chief.

The practice of letting new employees stay at the home while they look for housing has stopped since the vandalism incident. The matter is expected to be discussed at a meeting of the Fire Commission tonight.

Farber’s lawyer, Randy Knox, has said The City would be compensated for any damage caused by his client.

“The taxpayers are not going to foot the bill for this incident,” Knox said on Feb. 26. Farber, who remains in jail after a judge declined to reduce his $1 million bail, faces two felony arson counts, one felony vandalism count for damage exceeding $400 and one charge for violating a court order.

bbegin@examiner.com

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