Thursday, May 8, 2014

UPDATE - Registration of Vacant or Abandoned Buildings: Amendments Proposed

UPDATE - May 8, 2014

BOMA San Francisco Members:

Supervisor Katy Tang has introduced amendments to the 2009 San Francisco Vacant or Abandoned Buildings (VABO) law, summarized below.

If you are a BOMA member that owns or manages a portfolio of smaller buildings in San Francisco's commercial corridors, or if you feel that the new amendments may impact your downtown high-rise commercial/mixed-use properties, please email with your comments.

Existing Law (2009) 

Building Code Section 103A.4 et. seq., the VABO, requires that owners of vacant or abandoned buildings in San Francisco register their properties as such, pay registration fees, secure their properties to deny access to would-be trespassers, and provide proof of liability insurance coverage for the properties. VABO, as it currently reads, applies to some vacant commercial storefronts in San Francisco.

However, a building containing a vacant commercial storefront but an occupied second floor unit is technically not a vacant or abandoned building, as defined by VABO. As such, the City and County of San Francisco feels that many vacant commercial storefronts in San Francisco evade VABO regulations via this loophole.

Proposed Amendments to Current Law (2014) - Click Here to Review the Ordinance

By amending the Building Code to apply requirements similar to those specified in VABO to properties containing vacant or abandoned commercial storefronts, owners of properties in commercial corridors will have extra incentive to seek suitable tenants to fill their vacant or abandoned commercial storefronts. To provide owners of vacant or abandoned commercial storefronts with ample time to find suitable tenants, the proposed amendment to the Building Code would mandate owners of vacant or abandoned commercial storefronts to do the following within 30 days of issuance of a Notice of Violation:
  • Register their commercial storefronts with the Department of Building Inspection (DBI);
  • Secure their commercial storefronts to prevent trespassers from gaining access to the premises;
  • Remove graffiti, refuse, and debris from in and around their commercial storefronts; and 
  • Maintain fire and/or liability insurance coverage for their commercial storefronts as DBI determines necessary. 
Additionally, owners of vacant or abandoned commercial storefronts would be required to do either of the following within 270 days of their commercial storefronts becoming vacant or abandoned:

  • Rent their commercial storefronts to tenants who occupy the premises in a manner that complies with all state and local laws; or 
  • Pay a fee of $765.00 to include their commercial storefronts in the Registry of Vacant or Abandoned Commercial Storefronts. This fee shall be assessed on an annual basis for each year that a commercial storefront remains vacant or abandoned. 
Finally, the proposed amendment carves out an exemption for owners of commercial storefronts who demonstrate a good faith effort to rent, lease, or sell their commercial storefronts, or obtain permits to bring their commercial storefronts into compliance with the law.

Original Post - June 15, 2009

Your BOMA Advocacy Team attended the special meeting of the Building Inspection Commission (BIC) and the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) recently where the Registration of Vacant/Abandoned Buildings Ordinance was discussed (you can view a copy of the Ordinance, here). The discussion surrounding the measure was an interesting one; here are the highlights:

What's the origin/intent of the Ordinance?

  • The measure was introduced on May 5, 2009 by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and Supervisor Bevan Dufty.
  • Many cities have this type of ordinance (under the 'public nuisance' ordinance of the code).
  • At its core, the measure attempts to mitigate the deterioration of a building.
What's the status of the Ordinance?
  • On June 3, 2009, the San Francisco Planning Department: Historic Preservation Commissionconducted a public hearing to consider the measure. The Commission approved the Ordinance, with modifications. You can view the Commission's recommendation and documents related to their action, here.
  • On June 10, 2009, the measure was heard before the Code Advisory Committee (CAC) where they recommended "non-support of [the] ordinance as written, and in lieu recommen[ed] that the Department of Building Inspection develop administrative procedures to enforce existing requirements." You can read the CAC's letter to the BIC, here.
  • On June 12, 2009, DBI Director Vivian Day responded to the Planning Department's recommendation of the Ordinance that can be viewed here. In short, the measure is not enforceable by DBI.
  • On June 12, 2009, the BIC approved a motion to notify the Board of Supervisors that it does not support the Ordinance.
The need for the Ordinance warrants further discussion:
  • Do we need another ordinance? There are already City ordinances that cover blight.
  • What about buildings slated for demolition, or those waiting for rehabilitation? There needs to be a consensus review of this issue.
  • Finding insurance on a vacant building can be difficult. How can this be addressed?
  • What is the definition of a blighted building?
  • The City doesn't know how many blighted buildings it has.
  • This is a big brother issue: The City should help building owners improve their buildings, NOT impose another City mandate.
A full transcript/video of the meeting can be found here.

Your BOMA Advocacy Team will continue to monitor the Registration of Vacant/Abandoned Buildings Ordinance and report any new developments on this blog.

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