By the end of the month, landlords will be governed by new rules about fire safety signage that needs to be displayed inside the buildings they own, fire officials explained on Wednesday.

Firefighters explained the new requirements to media and curious landlords in a building on Valencia Street where they had already installed the signs to demonstrate how it should be done.

The new rules are part of amendments to the San Francisco Fire Code that have just come into effect and were originally proposed by Supervisors Katy Tang and David Campos. But fire officials made it clear they fully support the new regulations.

“The more familiar you are with your surroundings, it’s almost like having your own pre-fire plan,” said Fire Marshal Daniel DeCossio.

“This is value added, it’s more information and it’s additional awareness,” said Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White. “If you see something off, let the fire department know.”

Apartments of three or more units must include diagrams of each floor depicting exits, fire escapes, fire alarm pull stations and extinguishers. The diagrams must be posted in the common areas of each level of the building.  

To ensure that fire officials conducting inspections can gain entry,  the landlord’s phone number also needs to be posted on the outside of the building by the entryway.

Owners of buildings with alarm systems will need to file and post paperwork proving they have regularly complied with inspections. They also have to keep records proving that they provided the stipulated information to their tenants as they move in and then every year.

Even smaller rentals will require new signage detailing for tenants the importance of maintaining smoke detectors within units. Specific posting requirements can be found on the Fire Department’s website.

New required safety signage in an apartment building. Photo by Laura Wenus

New alarm system requirements will also come into effect, though not immediately. Alarms  must reach certain noise level requirements as measured from the pillow of sleeping areas (passing “the pillow test”) either by July 1, 2021 or when the landlord pulls a building permit for $50,000 worth of work or more.

Apart from giving tenants practical information about where important safety items are located in the building, the new requirements aim to empower tenants to keep an eye out for problems and report them.

Landlords must submit documentation to the Fire Department showing their tenants have received all the necessary information about safety and how to report hazards. A fire code violation hotline is listed prominently on the now-mandatory signs.

That’s partly in an effort to keep a civilian eye, if not an official one, on the insides of private apartments since fire firefighters generally don’t enter apartments during routine inspections.

They enter only if a tenant invites them in or if they are investigating a hazard complaint.

“We’re asking tenants to partner with us,” DeCossio said. “They’re the eyes and ears in our buildings.”

One landlord was unhappy about having to post his phone number out in front of the building, saying there are other ways for the fire marshal to gain entry to a building if necessary. But he, too, agreed that more information would be better.

Randy Pocius, a handyman who attended the press conference on a landlord’s behalf, said the new requirements are complicated and multi-layered.

He pulled out a printed version of the document published by the Fire Department and pointed out the many sections, subsections and sub-subsections. But in general, he said it would be useful.

“Any knowledge helps,” Pocius said. “The more tenants know about what’s available, and where things are, it’s going to help them and it also helps property owners understand what they need to do.”

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