After years of neglect, progress could finally be coming to the abandoned Victorian house on 18th and Shotwell streets — nearly a decade after a blaze left the building uninhabitable.
According to public records, property owners Ping and Nancy Cheuk gained approval from the San Francisco Planning Department on June 6 to move ahead with plans to fix the 111-year-old structure.
“The property owner is moving forward to make repairs and remains in compliance with the vacant building ordinance,” said Bill Strawn, communications director for the Department of Building Inspection.
Some nearby residents aren’t so sure. Ever since the 2002 fire, caused by a man who turned the stove on in the restaurant downstairs and then returned upstairs to watch the World Cup, the Victorian at 3246 18th Street has been a neighborhood eyesore. The owners have done little to the damaged building, and the area around it has become a dumping ground.
This is just one of 400 buildings that have been abandoned in San Francisco, and it offers a lesson in how difficult it can be to get owners to make improvements to blighted buildings — even with two ordinances on the books allowing the city to make repairs and fine the owners.
“People just come here to throw away their junk like old furniture and appliances,” said Martha Coates, who lives in an apartment complex nearby.
“I can guarantee you this, it has gotten worse,” said another neighbor, who asked not to be identified. “The rats have gotten bigger, the weeds are growing taller and the homeless are using the place to sleep in.”
“They’re complying with what they are required, which is maintaining and securing the building against trespassers,” Strawn told Mission Loc@l.
The Cheuks last attempted to improve the property in 2003, when they applied for a permit to raze the building and erect a four-story, two-unit residence with a restaurant on the ground level. Those plans fell through because the city wanted them to renovate rather than tear down the building.
For the next five years, the Cheuks resubmitted the original permit and were turned down each time. The application was finally canceled in 2008. The building continued to deteriorate. Building inspection records showed that complaints were filed about the building in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2010. It was leaning ominously and had a dangerous awning. The 2007 complaint alleged that the building was unsecured, and that people were living in it.
There wasn’t much the Department of Public Works could do, said Strawn. “It’s quite complicated, legally, for cities to seize private property. And in the absence of any ordinance addressing vacant and abandoned buildings, there were few initiatives taken to do something about buildings that may have been vacant for multiple years.”
In late 2008, the Board of Supervisors passed an anti-blight ordinance that allowed the department to make repairs to abandoned properties and bill responsible landlords $258 for each violation. According to the department’s records, the Cheuks were cited twice under this new ordinance.
It’s unclear why the Department of Public Works did not use the city ordinance to make more repairs on the building.
In 2009, the Board followed with an ordinance that required property owners to pay $765 a year to register their abandoned or vacant buildings with the Department of Building Inspection. The Cheuk family has registered and paid the fee for 2011.
In July 2010, the Department of Public Works ordered the property owners to fix broken windows and temporary plywood, remove graffiti, and keep up the landscaping surrounding the building. Department inspectors reported visiting the building and that repairs were made. The Cheuks were also told that fines would continue to pile up if the building was not repaired in a year.
The Cheuks filed a building permit on Nov. 19, 2010, to repair fire damage to the building’s exterior. This permit went through city planning in April and was completed and issued last week, according to Strawn.
The Cheuks’ daughter, Jeannette, did confirm by phone that “the building permit has been finally approved.”
“Are you guys going to be doing a story on us every year?” she asked, referring to a prior article written by Mission Loc@l.
Jeannette did not offer any specifics about the cost to repair the structure or when work on the site would begin, but according to public documents, plans call for a $170,000 renovation to repair and replace broken boards, timber and glass, and to rebuild the first-floor restaurant.
According to Department of Public Works records, another citation was issued on April 25, 2011. On May 11, the property was visited by a housing inspector after a neighbor’s complaint about broken boards and nails sticking out of the structure.
Across the street at the St. Charles Borromeo School, a historic landmark built in 1887, office manager Teresita Pobre said she hopes the family will make good on their promise.
“I think it would be best for the neighborhood if the house gets fixed up,” Pobre said.