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String Of Mission District Fires Prompts Push For Safer Buildings, Tenant Protections

KCBS_740 SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) -- San Francisco Supervisor David Campos called for a study to examine how to bring fire sprinklers to more buildings in the city following a string of fires in the Mission District that have left hundreds of tenants without a place to live.

Campos said he plans to ask the city legislative analyst on Tuesday to prepare a report on how best to increase the use of fire sprinklers in San Francisco. He will also ask the San Francisco Fire Department and the city's Department of Building Inspection to take part in a task force on sprinkler implementation.

Campos noted that sprinklers installed in the Graywood Hotel, a single-room occupancy hotel on Mission Street, had helped to protect that building during a five-alarm fire in Bernal Heights last month that damaged six buildings and displaced 57 people.

In several of the fires over a two year period landlords did not have working fire alarms or sprinklers, or both.

However, tenants groups have raised concerns that mandating sprinkler installation could give landlords cause to evict or raise rents for tenants.

"We are committed to making sprinklers happen, not just in the Mission but throughout the city," Campos said. "But we want to do so in a way that protects rent-controlled housing, that protects tenants, and that at the end of the day we prevent these fires."

Campos previously introduced legislation, approved by the Board of Supervisors' government audit and oversight committee Thursday, that requires landlords to install better, louder alarm systems by 2021, to post notices of compliance with smoke alarm inspection requirements, and to install fire blocks or fire insulation in attics.

The legislation also calls for landlords to develop an action plan in the aftermath of a fire, notifying tenants of how and when to retrieve their belongings, providing a contact number and outlining a schedule for repairs and estimated time for when tenants can reoccupy a building.

Tenants groups, including Causa Justa Just Cause and the Housing Rights Committee, said the action plan was critical. Tenants displaced by fires have a legal right of return but often struggle to get information from landlords, advocates said.

"I've seen a whole lot of people come in whose buildings have been burnt and they have a whole lot of questions and the reality is that we've never been able to answer them," said Tommi Avicolla Mecca, director of counseling for the Housing Rights Committee. "This gives them the information that they need."

Campos Thursday also added an amendment requiring the Department of Building Inspection to re-inspect a building every 90 days after a fire to ensure that issues are being addressed.

That amendment was inspired by problems with a building at 22nd and Mission streets damaged in a fatal four-alarm fire in January 2015 that was the scene of two fires earlier this year before the property owner finally acted to demolish it.

The fire safety legislation will be heard by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Campos said he plans to introduce an amendment, requested by the San Francisco Apartment Association, that would prevent the requirement for the installation of fire blocks or fire insulation from being triggered by mandatory seismic retrofitting work.

TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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