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San Francisco looks to hike penalties for illegal construction

Supervisor Hillary Ronen at a Board of Supervisors meeting in San Francisco | Juliana Yamada/The Standard

Illegal construction in San Francisco might be about to get a whole lot more expensive.

Proposed by Supervisor Hillary Ronen, new legislation would hike the fine for violating city planning or building codes to $1,000 per day from the previous $250 per day penalty. The new ordinance also clarifies that each individual unit in violation will be counted separately.

Illegally added or demolished units would incur an additional fine of up to $250,000, or up to $500,000 for historic buildings. Except for cases when the changes would add sizable affordable units, any illegal demolition would also put a five-year hold on the owner’s ability to apply for new permits. 

The legislation was inspired by a property owner on San Bruno Avenue in the Portola neighborhood who overbuilt by more than a dozen units, offsetting the cost of the fines with profits from the extra rentals.

The Department of Building Inspection would have final discretion over the fines and violations. 

“We really wanted to go after those actors,” said Santiago Lerma, Ronen’s legislative aide, at a Wednesday hearing.  

The increased penalties were approved by the Building Inspection Commission on Wednesday and will eventually go before the full Board of Supervisors for approval.

Sarah “Fred” Sherburn-Zimmer, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, said stiffer penalties would go a long way toward deterring property developers from lying on their applications.

“We are sick of seeing developers just get away with anything,” Sherburn-Zimmer said. “There’s no real consequences.”