Property owners hit with penalties for vacant buildings 

Thousands of dollars in city fines are being mailed to scores of property owners after they allegedly failed to register vacant or abandoned buildings.

Under rules introduced late last year by city leaders in an attempt to reduce neighborhood blight, a property owner is required to pay a $765 annual fee to register a vacant building and maintain it in a secure and good condition.

Based on feedback from firehouses, police stations, lawmakers and residents, 230 suspected vacant properties were identified. The City sent letters to the owners of the 230 properties in November asking them to register their buildings.

Roughly 87 property owners subsequently registered their vacant buildings and 48 additional properties were removed from the list, according to Department of Building Inspection spokesman Bill Strawn.

This week, the department began sending $6,885 fines to the owners of the remaining 95 properties, Strawn said.

The fines could bring in hefty revenue — potentially more than $600,000 — during the budget crisis.

“The supervisors wanted us to have some sort of economic incentive for property owners to actually put these properties back into more productive uses,” Strawn said.

San Francisco Business Owners and Managers Association government liaison Ken Cleaveland described the “in-your-face” fines as “pretty steep.”

“The permit fees are high enough,” Cleaveland said.

The association supported legislative efforts to allow The City to track vacant buildings and force property owners to maintain their properties, but Cleaveland said permit fees and fines should reflect the true cost of city staff needed to manage the issue.

“If it takes an hour to go out there and inspect it to make sure that it’s been properly boarded up, then charge for the hour,” Cleaveland said. “Don’t make it a blood-letting just for the purpose of making money.”

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Staff Report

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