Press Release: Supervisor Wiener to Introduce Code Enforcement Reform Legislation to Improve Building Safety, Crack Down on Code Violators, and Create Loan Fund to Correct Violations
Legislative package will grant the City Attorney and the Department of Building Inspection greater authority to pursue code violations, unify the code enforcement processes for all departments to create more accountability, and create a revolving loan fund for small property owners to bring buildings up to code
San Francisco — Today Supervisor Scott Wiener will introduce code enforcement reform legislation to improve San Francisco’s code enforcement process, strengthen the City’s ability to crack down on serial code violators, and help code violators who want to correct their violations but cannot afford to do so. San Francisco’s current code enforcement process lacks coordination among different departments charged with inspecting and enforcing codes to keep San Francisco’s building stock safe and habitable, and creates accountability gaps that prevents the city from addressing significant violations of the Buildings, Fire, Health, and Planning Codes.
The legislation grants the City Attorney’s Office and the Department of Building Inspection more tools to enforce code violations, while harmonizing code inspection and enforcement processes across different city codes to ensure greater accountability and coordination among city departments. For example, the legislation allows the City Attorney’s Office to file suit against code violators without a formal referral from a city department; currently, some departments refer almost no code violations, even serious and longstanding violations, for litigation.
The legislation will also create a Code Enforcement Revolving Loan Fund, to provide low interest loans to qualifying small property owners to bring buildings up to code.
A full outline of the legislation is at the end of this press release.
“Our current code enforcement process isn’t working for our neighborhoods,” said Supervisor Wiener. “We need to empower City departments — and then hold those departments accountable — to take clear and decisive action when bad actors are ignoring the laws. We also need to help small property owners who want to do the right thing but cannot afford to do so. This legislation will tighten up regulations while also providing the City with the tools it needs to pursue significant and obvious violations of our city codes.”
Added Debra Walker, a long-time tenant advocate and tenant representative on the Building Inspection Commission: “Everyone living in San Francisco should be able to have confidence in the safety of their building. All too often, when a fire takes lives and destroys property, or when a building collapses, or mold compromises tenants’ health, these situations could have been avoided or lessened with better code enforcement. Code violations have enormous impact on the vitality of our neighborhoods. It is our job as city officials to make sure we have an understandable, consistent, effective and efficient system of code enforcement throughout our city departments. Supervisor Wiener’s legislation is long overdue and will go a long way to bring our code enforcement efforts forward and to better coordinate a hugely important service to all residents of our city.”
“Our current code compliance process can be confusing for property owners and the general public,” said Janan New, Director of the San Francisco Apartment Association. “We need a synthesis of code compliance abatement procedures between the department of building inspection, the fire department and the health department. This legislation will provide more clarity, making it easier to respond to the need to improve building safety.”
This legislation will improve code enforcement efforts by doing the following:
1. Grants the City Attorney’s Office authority to pursue code violations without requiring departmental action
- Currently, the City Attorney can only take action against serial code violators — like Academy of Art — if the Department refers the case to them. But Departments are at times hesitant to refer cases, or take so long to refer them that the violations are stale and thrown out by the Courts as not timely. This would allow the City Attorney to pro-actively pursue action for significant violations of the Building, Fire, Health, and Planning codes.
2. Gives DBI the clear and explicit authority to suspend all open permits on a project with a history of repeated violations of either the Building, Public Works, or Planning Codes.
- Currently, DBI typically only suspends the permit that the active violations most closely associate, leaving the contractor to continue work on other aspects of the project. This change would authorize a “stop all work” order, until all code violations have been fully investigated and resolved to the satisfaction of DBI. By freezing the project, DBI will have more leverage to enforce code violations.
3. Creates a unified code enforcement process for Building, Fire, and Health departments.
- Currently, the Building, Fire, and Health departments all have a different code enforcement process, including how these departments conduct investigations, issue notices of violations, hold administrative hearings, and assess penalties. This legislation will unify the processes that these three departments follow in enforcing violations related to buildings. This will include clear deadlines for taking action by both departments and violators to ensure code violations are corrected.
4. Creates more accountability by establishing a monthly reporting requirement for departments
- Each report will include: for every NOV issued, the departments shall report whether the issue has been resolved, along with any fees and costs paid, whether the matter has been or will be referred to the City Attorney for review, or other explanation of how the matter is being handled
5. Creates a Code Enforcement Revolving Loan Fund to provide low-interest loans to qualified property owners to bring buildings up to code.
- Supervisor Wiener worked to secure $4 million from the Department of Building Inspection’s fees for code enforcement efforts as part of last year’s Budget process. This fund will be backed by this money.
Supervisor Wiener, along with Supervisor Malia Cohen, previously held a hearing on the City’s code enforcement process, where many issues addressed in this legislation were first discussed. This legislation will go to the Building Inspection Commission for review and then to the Land Use and Transportation Committee of the Board of Supervisors.