Legislation calls for no-smoking areas, window screens 

Residential property owners may soon have to install screens in windows of their housing units, block up any cracks where rats could sneak through and prohibit smoking in common areas — or face hundreds of dollars in fines.

The City’s Department of Public Health and Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi have drafted legislation aimed at improving housing conditions for tenants in San Francisco.

"We are trying to make housing healthy and higher quality for everybody," said Rajiv Bhatia, director of Occupational and Environmental Health.

The legislation would require building owners to install screens on the windows if the building does not have a central air system.

Window screens would prevent mosquitoes from entering homes, protecting tenants from the West Nile Virus and any other future infectious diseases that mosquitoes carry, Bhatia said.

Janan New, director of San Francisco Apartment Association, which represents more than 2,800 rental property owners, said that it would be "over the top" for legislation to require window screens, especially if The City will not compensate owners for the expense.

She added, "What if a tenant enjoys the view? There are a lot of people who just don’t want [screens] because of the views."

Bhatia said that window screens are a requirement in other cities, even in Los Angeles, where the mosquito population is much lower.

Mirkarimi said he authored the legislation after hearing horror stories from tenants who have been attacked or bitten by mosquitoes or rodents and whose health has been compromised by their living conditions.

One of the most common complaints received by the Health Department is smoking. The legislation would also prohibit smoking in common areas, which includes lobbies, hallways, shared cooking areas and play areas.

New said the smoking prohibition is a good idea, but worries about enforcement. A tenant could not be evicted just on the grounds of violating the proposed smoking law, she said.

Tenants also issue hundreds of complaints a year about rats or other rodents. "San Francisco has a lot of buildings that are older and these buildings have holes, little cracks in the foundation, entry ways between rooms — so [there’s] a combination of ways for rats and other rodents to get in," Bhatia said.

In the past, the Health Department would enforce rat complaints in buildings by requiring the owners to employ a pest control company, but if this legislation is approved, the Health Department would force owners to "close up any holes."

The enforcement of the new legislation would be complaint-driven, Bhatia said. If inspectors find a violation, building owners would be charged at least $150 for their time. A building owner would face fines of up to $500 a day per violation.

The legislation is before the Board of Supervisors City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee today.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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