About 200 San Francisco multi-unit property owners are expected to miss a deadline requiring them to file paperwork to begin seismic upgrades as part of a new ordinance aimed at making city buildings more earthquake resistant.
Thursday marked the deadline for owners of buildings with more than 15 units to turn-in engineering plans and permits to comply with the ordinance aimed at stabilizing “soft-story” buildings. The term describes buildings with ground floor garages or commercial spaces that are susceptible to collapse in a large earthquake.
“The danger is during an earthquake,” said John Pollard whose SF Garage Company is performing retrofits, “the building could collapse, it could fall one story, it could fall into a public way.”
More than 5,000 San Francisco buildings fall into the soft-story category. The city began easing into new restrictions requiring building owners to retrofit their buildings by rolling them out in tiers.
Five-hundred-and-fifty buildings with 15 or more units were required to file their paperwork by Thursday. But the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection said around 200 hadn’t met the deadline.
“What we’ve asked properties,” said Department of Building spokeswoman Lily Madjus Wu, “is to turn them in to avoid receiving a notice of violation on their property along with an earthquake warning placard.”
The department said properties missing the deadline would get a placard placed on their building warning that it is in violation of San Francisco’s building codes regarding earthquake safety. Madjus Wu said building owners would also face an administrative hearing followed by fines.
The ordinance stems from the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, which caused many multi-unit buildings, especially in the Marina and Sunset districts, to collapse and pancake when their ground floors gave out.
Property owner Phill Boersma said the ordinance was initially confusing as property owners grappled with what it would mean for them. Boersma, who is also a real estate broker, thought many property owners would choose to just walk away rather than deal with the added expense.
“Initially, when the law came out, we thought it was going to translate into a lot of people selling their properties because they didn’t want to deal with it,” Boersma said. “But after going through it, I don’t think that’s the case.”
Boersma said for landlords, San Francisco’s rising rents and real estate values have taken some of the bite out of having to foot the bill for expensive seismic upgrades. The city is allowing landlords to pass on 100 percent of the costs to tenants over 20 years. It’s also allowing building owners to replace garages with additional dwelling units. Boersma said with approaching deadlines, it has become difficult to hire people to do the work.
“Now the process is just a challenge in terms of finding engineers, contractors, architects to deal with this,” Boersma said, “because they’re overrun.”
Pollard said his crews are working seven days a week on multiple projects, including a motel on Lombard Street that was stripped down to bare beams. On the ground floor, his crews were replacing smaller steel trusses with larger ones able to withstand a violent shaking.
“We’re structurally doing the supports to keep it from plopping down on Lombard Street,” Pollard said above the din of construction.
Next year, more than 3,000 properties of more than five units will be required to turn in their paperwork as part of Tier 3. Under the ordinance, the properties have two years past the filing date to actually finish the work.
But even with close to 200 buildings missing the Tier 2 deadline, Pollard said he could sympathize with what those owners might be going through.
“Somebody may have lost their loved one, somebody may not fully understand what this legislation is about,” Pollard said, “and somebody may think they’ve already complied.”