SAN FRANCISCO—City officials may require older buildings to install sprinkler systems in response to a city analysis and recent fires that have occurred over the past years. Two members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors have recommended the retrofit, some city officials, tenants, and landlords are concerned with the costs associated with installing new sprinklers and the displacement of residents during the renovations.

The SF Board of Supervisors released a budget and legislative analyst’s report on Monday, November 21 highlighting the city’s problems handling fires in older buildings, costs of retrofitting, and practices for communicating with landlords to ensure that tenants are not dislodged during the sprinkler process.

According to the report, SF reported 252 two-alarm or greater leveled fires from 2004-2016.  Wood-framed buildings—the most common type in region, made up for 87 percent of the fires in the past 12 years.

Supervisor David Campos, who represents the Mission District stated:

“Long term, it does make sense that we want to have as many sprinklers in as many buildings as we can, but, short term, I do think that we need to, because of the challenges” according to a KQED news report.

The price of sprinkler renovation could be $46,000, $300,000 or close to $500,000 based on the amount of units in the older apartment buildings. According to current city laws, tenants are allowed to increase the price of rent to help offset some of the renovation costs.

The Board of Supervisors recommends two solutions to reduce the possibility of displacement:

  1. phasing in new sprinklers and
  2. the implementation of the Dorothy Mae Ordinance—installation of automatic sprinklers in common areas and outside of apartment door entryways in buildings of 3 stories or more according to the report.

Building owners would need to purchase sprinkler heads and prevent water from from flowing back into the building’s drinking water supply. The report recommends that owners consider loans such as the seismic safety loan program to help pay for the sprinkler costs.

The Board of Supervisors have focused their efforts on strengthening regulations for fire alarms, but have not yet approved sprinklers.