San Francisco Legislative Update (2018): New “Fire Life Safety Notice and Order” Enhances City’s Tools for Fire Safety Violations and Mandated Upgrades


Ordinance 267-18 amends the Building Code to create a new “Fire Life Safety Notice and Order” that Department of Building Inspection officials can issue in response to repeated violations of DBI-enforced fire safety requirements.

The new rules apply to buildings of three or more units (i.e., anything larger than a duplex) and after two or more unabated Fire Life Safety Notice and Orders, they will require the building owner to do one or more of the following:

  • (a) install a new fire sprinkler system;
  • (b) improve an existing fire sprinkler system or upgrade it to current code requirements;
  • (c) install a new fire alarm and/or detection system; or
  • (d) improve an existing fire alarm and/or detection system or upgrade it to current code requirements.

While San Francisco was spared the devastation of the recent Camp Fire (though we had to contend with its effects), fires are a persistent concern in a City with an old and aging housing stock.

Nonetheless, this enforcement tool could be punitive for small property owners. Fire sprinklers are a great safety feature (and are now required in all residential new construction in California). But they’re really expensive to install in old buildings. And, while the law is written to exempt the smaller property owners who may not be able to easily bear these costs, San Francisco now has great latitude in identifying the very same violations that might bring the building outside of the exemption: in particular, having an “illegal in-law” unit could be a fire egress violation. But the City is unlikely to allow removal permits for this tenant-occupied housing stock; it will more likely compel legalization of a density bonus unit. For some property owners, this will turn a duplex into a triplex, at significant cost.

While most property owners would otherwise be able to pass on the costs of capital improvements to tenants, via petition at the Rent Board, Ordinance 267-18 also amends the Rent Ordinance to prohibit capital improvement passthroughs for work required to cure Fire Life Safety Notices.