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San Francisco mayor signs quake retrofit law

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 19, 2013 at 7:20 pm •  Published: April 19, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Tenant advocates and property managers in San Francisco's hyperactive real estate market are fretting about new earthquake safety rules that will spike the cost of repairing older buildings and ultimately increase monthly rents.

On the anniversary of the 1906 earthquake that killed hundreds of people and leveled much of San Francisco, the city approved a new law Thursday requiring thousands of apartment buildings to be upgraded to better withstand tremors.

Owners of about 3,000 multi-unit residential buildings sprinkled throughout the city will have to shoulder the sizeable costs of the seismic retrofits but will be allowed to pass on those costs to tenants, although some may qualify for an exemption.

In a city where a one-bedroom apartment rents for nearly $2,200 per month, any increase to the already sky-high cost of housing prompts a conversation.

"Tenants are struggling already, so paying even an extra $50 on top of that is pretty hard for most people," said Ted Gullicksen, the director of the nonprofit San Francisco Tenants' Union. "The heftiest rent increases will be in the smaller buildings, just because there are fewer tenants to share the costs."

Mayor Ed Lee signed the bill Thursday, saying the measure would better protect the nearly 60,000 people who live or work in those buildings from potential disaster.

"This mandatory seismic retrofit program will protect San Franciscans, protect our housing stock and ensure San Francisco can rapidly recover from the next earthquake," Lee said in a statement. "We renew our commitment to making sure that disasters such as the 1906 earthquake and fire do not devastate our city again."

The retrofitting legislation covers so-called soft-story multi-unit buildings built before building codes were changed in 1978 — that is, those with three or more stories that are wood-framed and have a garage or other similar opening on the ground floor.

Owners of suspected soft-story buildings will receive notices in the mail, which will give them a year to get an inspection to determine whether they need to retrofit.

Authorities estimate the upgrades could cost around $60,000 to $130,000 per building. Lee said banks are developing financing packages for owners to help pay for the work.

As part of a compromise with tenant advocates, the city also tentatively agreed to streamline its process for qualifying those who make less than $78,000 per year for a hardship exemption from the pass-through costs, Gullicksen said.

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