Mission Street buildings among the worst fire-safety hazards in The City 

Diffused morning light spills on the Mission District in San Francisco, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009. - AP PHOTO/RUSSEL A. DANIELS
  • AP Photo/Russel A. Daniels
  • Diffused morning light spills on the Mission District in San Francisco, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009.
Building inspectors are in a heated back-and-forth with some Mission Street landlords over fire-safety violations.

Buildings on Mission Street, The City’s longest and oldest corridor, have amassed more notices of violation from the Fire Department than buildings on any other street in San Francisco. Not unlike the mixed-use building at 22nd and Mission streets that became engulfed in a fatal blaze in January, many structures have been afflicted by numerous violations.

“Anybody that lives in a multi-residential building should be concerned about their safety because they really don’t have control over the building itself or what other people do in that building,” Fire Department Lt. Mindy Talmadge said.

Since 2005, the Fire Department has issued more than 240 notices of violation on Mission Street, a figure rivaled only by Market Street with about 130 violations, Fire Department records show. But in all of its seven-mile stretch, two blocks between 18th and 20th streets amount to the worst offenders. Buildings there garnered 59 violations alone in 10 years, according to the fire department.

Fire inspectors notified the landlord of the apartment building at 2265 Mission St. of fire-code violations 10 times in five inspections from 2005 until 2009. One block down at 2337 Mission St., the Fire Department has cited the landlord nine times since 2005.

Though there were no unabated fire department-issued violations on the two blocks earlier this month, the Department of Building Inspection said various fire-safety concerns persisted at 2329 Mission St., 2280 Mission St. and 2246 Mission St.

Records from the Department of Building Inspection, which also notifies landlords of fire-safety violations of The City planning code, provide examples of the types of violations in those two blocks. Among those violations: fire escapes were blocked by trash, exposed wiring fed a storage shed where tenants lived atop an apartment building, and the beeps from a faulty fire alarm were present for almost a month. “What we do is to supplement what the Fire Department does,” Senior Housing Inspector Jamie Sanbonmatsu said. “We are a taking a close look at the Mission corridor as a focus area.”

Also in the afflicted two block area, tenants at 2265 Mission St. had no fire extinguisher on hand at one point in time, while 2337 Mission St. had blocked fire escapes in 2007 and a broken fire alarm in 2012, according to Department of Building Inspection documents.

In another instance, a residential hotel on Mission and 20th streets had garbage cans in a room not fitted with sprinklers, which is considered a fire hazard, and an obstructed fire-escape ladder. Large fires are less of a concern in residential hotels as a result of a 2002 law that requires sprinklers in individual rooms, Sanbonmatsu said. Sprinklers are only required by law in common areas of apartment buildings.

The most common fire-code violations, each resulting in a $220 fine for landlords per inspection, are locked doors on fire routes, expired fire-alarm panels, exit signs with burned-out bulbs and absent fire extinguishers, Talmadge said.

“If you look at other places in the Tenderloin, we’ve had 50 violations,” Sanbonmatsu said.

If a violation cannot be corrected on the spot, landlords are given 24 to 72 hours to resolve the issue. In more serious instances, a Fire Department member is assigned to perform walkthroughs of a building, fire extinguisher in hand, until the problem is abated.

“Inspectors try and work with the building owners to encourage them to be responsible property owners,” Talmadge said.

Both the Fire Department and the Department of Building Inspection refer cases with uncooperative landlords to the City Attorney’s Office, which can sue landlords for up to $1,000 per day for fire-safety violations, Sanbonmatsu said.

“We would rather not shut down buildings and cause a lot of people to be homeless, that’s why we refer the landlords to the City Attorney,” Sanbonmatsu said, adding that illegal units are occasionally closed for fire-safety concerns.

In March, the Department of Building Inspection sent three cases to the City Attorney’s Office after landlord Simon Kong refused to rehabilitate his properties at 2114 Mission St. and 2420 Folsom St. — which have padlocked fire exits and “big piles of garbage” at exits. Another landlord failed to cooperate with fire laws at 901 Valencia St., Sanbonmatsu said. While the violations on Mission Street alone are disproportionate to the number of streets in The City, they are a small fraction of more than 4,000 violations issued citywide in the last 10 years and make up only 3.7 percent of all fire inspections conducted by the department, Talmadge said.

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