Photo by Cristiano Valli

San Francisco supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved three proposals aimed at protecting renters from the repercussions of structure fires by prioritizing them for affordable housing and requiring landlords to provide more information to tenants and to the city.

All three pieces of legislation were passed on first reading unanimously and will become law after another Board of Supervisors vote and mayoral approval.

The most expansive measure, introduced by Supervisor David Campos, would require landlords to submit an “action plan” – detailing things like contact information, how they would regulate access to the damaged building and when reconstruction might be complete.

“This is actually a very critical piece,” Campos said. “What happens in many of these fires is that the tenants don’t even know what’s going on.”

Campos’ measure will also require landlords to upgrade their alarm systems by 2021 and require landlords of buildings with six or more units to add fire blocks (which prevent fires from spreading across buildings). Landlords would have to make the changes immediately if they are doing upgrades costing $50,000 or more.

Both Campos’ measure and one introduced by Supervisor Katy Tang will require landlords to notify their tenants of various fire safety features of their buildings, along with maintenance updates. Under Campos’ measure, property owners will have to notify their tenants of existing requirements for smoke alarms, and file reports on their compliance with the city every two years. Tang’s measure requires landlords and homeowners’ associations to provide information about fire safety to residents of buildings with three units or more, and ups the requirement to include fire safety training for buildings with 16 or more units.

“We’re really working to make sure that our tenants, especially in multi-unit buildings, are better prepared for fires,” Tang said, “and to prevent them from occurring in the first place.”

Wiener’s legislation will mean that residents displaced by fires will get a leg up in the selection process for filling below market rate housing units. The addition of this category comes alongside a bigger one – Wiener’s legislation legislates a preference for affordable housing units that applies to anyone living or working in San Francisco. Though that was already sometimes applied by the Mayor’s Office of Housing in practice, the measure makes it official.

‘All of us have seen, at one point or another, the devastation it causes when one of these fires happen,” Wiener said. “Even if you are well to do, it is incredibly traumatic…But if you are lower income, it can destroy your life.”

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  1. The only way to stop the fires is to replace the scores of ancient, vermin-ridden firetraps with 21st Century eco-villages. These old buildings cannot be upgraded to modern standards, and will continue to fall apart and burn down. Many of these buildings, like the Budget Inn on Market St., have no acessible rear exit in the event of a fire. The City allows it because it’s cheaper than building public housing for all on a sliding scale. If anyone should be in the real estate business, it’s the municipality that owns the land.

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