This article was posted on Friday, May 01, 2015

Housing inspectors are seeking legal action against the owners of three apartment buildings in the Mission District [of San Francisco] for blocking fire escapes and having alarm systems that don’t work.

The request that the city attorney’s office pursue legal action comes soon after two deadly fires in the Mission and complaints that at least one of the burned buildings was for years in violation of safety code regulations. 

Officials with the city’s Department of Building Inspection said the recent fires led them to re-inspect residential apartment buildings along Mission Street for safety hazards and rush cases involving repeat violators to the city attorney.

“We are being very proactive and fast-tracking these types of cases to the city attorney,” said Rosemary Bosque, the department’s chief housing inspector.

This week, the department referred three cases to City Attorney Dennis Herrera for violations at [three separate addresses.]

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Safety code violations at a 20-unit building date back to August, according to the department. The building has received four citations for missing and nonworking smoke detectors, a blocked fire escape and rotting wood that makes up the structural supports for a 40-foot stairway.

A 10-unit building at 16th and Mission streets has been the subject of two citations for a non-functioning alarm system, and chained and padlocked exits.

The owner of that building also owns a seven-unit building at 20th and Folsom streets. A housing inspector cited that building for having a nonfunctioning fire extinguisher and blocked fire escapes.

Yvonne Mere, chief attorney for the neighborhood and resident protection unit of the city attorney’s office, said three referrals in one day for safety code violations “is not an insignificant number.” Mere said the city attorney must review the referrals before deciding whether to file lawsuits against the owners.

The Mission has had an unusually high number of fires in recent months. In September, a fire engulfed a three-story building at 23rd and Mission streets.

In January, a fire at 22nd and Mission killed one man and left more than 50 low-income residents homeless. San Francisco fire inspectors found safety violations at the building: 

  • missing fire extinguishers
  • blocked fire escapes
  • inoperable smoke alarms and
  • locked exits that had gone unfixed for years

Earlier [this year], a fire on 24th and Treat streets left one man dead and injured his wife and three children.

Bosque said that since the fire at 22nd and Mission, investigators have been deployed to review safety code standards at 126 residential apartment buildings on Mission Street from Third Street to Geneva Avenue. She said cases involving repeat violations would be referred to the city attorney’s office for legal action. 

Emily Green is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.  Reprinted with permission.