Tighter Requirements and a New Penalty for Owners of Vacant or Abandoned Storefronts in San Francisco

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seal-of-the-city-of-san-francisco-300x300Ordinance 52-19 became effective in April 2019 and expands upon existing San Francisco Building Code registration requirements for “Vacant or Abandoned” “Commercial Storefronts.”

A storefront becomes “Vacant or Abandoned” once it has been unoccupied for 30 days (among other earlier triggers for blighted or unsecured storefronts). A “Commercial Storefront” is broadly defined as “any area within a building that may be individually leased or rented for any purpose other than Residential Use as defined in Planning Code.” (See § 103.A.5.1 of the San Francisco Building Code.) So, a building that is 97% leased could still contain a Vacant or Abandoned Commercial Storefront, which would technically require registration under the Building Code.

As amended by Ordinance 52-19, the Building Code imposes the following requirements on San Francisco property owners:

1. An owner is required to register a Commercial Storefront within 30 days of it becoming Vacant or Abandoned (i.e., usually 60 days from the date that the applicable portion of the building becomes unoccupied). (See § 103A.5.2.)

    • The Board of Supervisors eliminated a key exemption for Vacant Commercial Storefronts that are “actively being offered for sales, lease or rent.”
    • Exemptions remain for Vacant Commercial Storefronts that have been issued permits for repair, rehabilitation or construction, or where an owner or lessee is actively pursuing a required permit.

2. A property owner must pay an annual registration fee ($711) at the time of registration. (See § 103A.5.2.)

    • Previously, the fee was due 270 days after the Commercial Storefront became Vacant or Abandoned.

3. After registering a Vacant or Abandoned Commercial Storefront, a property owner is also required to hire a licensed professional each year (at the owner’s cost) to certify that the Commercial Storefront meets code requirements. (See § 103A.5.3.)

    • Previously, the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) would conduct an inspection at the owner’s cost.

4. If a property owner fails to register with DBI and receives a Notice of Violation, DBI may impose a new penalty equal to 4x the annual registration fee ($2,844). (See § 110A.)

    • Notably, this penalty is only imposed once DBI sends an owner a NOV.

It is worth noting that DBI is relying on property owners to self-report their own non-compliance, unless DBI either investigates the property or receives a complaint about the property.

Relatedly (but not to be confused with Ordinance 52-19), Supervisor Aaron Peskin has proposed leveling $250 per day against storefronts that remain empty for more than six months. Such a tax would need to be placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors, where it would need to pass by a two-thirds vote to become law.

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