Supervisors Place Stricter Fees on Owners of Vacant Storefronts

The Board of Supervisors passed legislation to deter building owners from leaving storefronts vacant, with a 30-day deadline to pay fees.

Supervisors unanimously co-sponsored and passed legislation on Tuesday that will require landlords to register unoccupied storefronts within 30 days in an effort to maintain an accurate vacancy count.

Changes to the building code were sought to provide an accurate count of storefronts that may sit vacant for months or even years. Under the current complaint-driven system, the Department of Building Inspections only registered 40 vacancies in 2018 but thousands more with went uncounted with simple requirements like a posted “For rent” sign.

“When you have commercial property owners holding multiple storefronts vacant for long periods of time, that hurts all the other small businesses in the area who rely on a vibrant commercial corridor to attract customers,” said Supervisor Sandra Fewer, who introduced the legislation. “The enforcement mechanisms in this ordinance are vital to addressing our vacancy problem head on and complement ongoing efforts to fill vacant storefronts so our small businesses can thrive.”

Instead of a 270-day grace period, building owners must pay the $711 annual registration fee within 30 days of a storefront being unoccupied. They face another $2,844 fee if they don’t comply and are warned. Up to half the annual fee may be refunded depending on when it is no longer vacant.

Owners must also submit an annual inspection report by a third party to DBI when they renew their vacancy status. In turn, DBI will maintain a registry of vacant or abandoned commercial storefronts and report quarterly to the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

Supervisors like Aaron Peskin and Vallie Brown have also taken steps to reduce retail vacancies. With the board’s approval, Peskin will place a vacancy tax on residential and retail properties to the November ballot. The tax would charge owners $250 each day for residences with three or more units and retail properties in the Neighborhood Commercial Districts vacant for at least six months in a row.

Brown tackled the permitting process by speeding through new businesses and allowing for flexible retail uses, like allowing food and clothing under one roof. Mayor London Breed directed another $1 million for similar efforts.

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