Got pests? Open data project reveals housing code violation data


Thanks to a handy new online platform created by the city’s Department of Public Health, in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation and Code for America, you can now determine whether the rental you’re eyeing is moldy, pest-ridden, or otherwise hazardous to your health – before signing a lease.

Investigating a potential landlord’s track record is just one application for the House Facts data set, an open data tool rolled out six months ago that instantly provides building owners’ names, code violation data, property assessment information and other relevant information associated with San Francisco addresses, all in one place.

Let’s say, for example, you were contemplating paying $1,650 a month to inhabit a 300-square-foot studio, right in the center of the Tenderloin. Now there’s a bargain in a red hot housing market! 

But before you get all excited and drain your bank account to plunk down a security deposit, surf on over to HouseFacts and punch in the building address. With this simple search, you might discover that this building has undergone inspection by city agencies a grand total of 73 times, most recently 11 months ago, with a total of 23 violations recorded.

Skim the list of violations and you’ll notice the words “rodents,” “insects,” “unsanitary conditions,” and even (big red flag here!) “biohazards (human feces).”

As they say, knowledge is power.

To be fair, some of those violations were recorded practically an eternity ago, and things could well have been cleaned up since – but having instant access to these track records could prove to be a check against negligent landlords.


A map of housing inspection data prepared by DPH.

The initiative to develop a uniform format and open platform for San Francisco housing inspection data was spearheaded under the environmental health division of the Department of Public Health in collaboration with city government’s growing tech innovation wing, and it’s now being emulated by several other cities nationwide.

DPH’s former Environmental Health Director, Dr. Rajiv Bhatia – who recently resigned after being targeted with a mysterious investigation that resulted in no findings of misconduct – was instrumental in advancing the open-data project under the Program on Health, Equity and Sustainability.

“We decided releasing this data would have the potential to improve government regulation,” notes Cyndy Comerford, manager of planning and fiscal policy in the environmental health division, who’s continued to move it forward since Bhatia’s departure. “Within San Francisco, there are many people who live in dilapidated and poor housing.” 

Residences plagued with rodents, cockroach infestations, lead, or mold present higher risks for health afflictions, such as allergies, respiratory conditions or cancer.

The enhanced transparency can strengthen code compliance and lead to an overall reduction in medical costs for preventable conditions, Comerford said.

Slumlords, beware: The tool has also been implemented at a time when the city is signaling that more aggressive code enforcement is on the horizon.

At the Jan. 7 Board of Supervisors meeting, Sups. Scott Wiener and Malia Cohen called for a hearing to get a better handle on building code enforcement.

“There’s not really any clear procedure for when these cases are closed, or how they’re closed,” said Jeff Cretan, a legislative aide for Sup. Scott Wiener.

“Our complicated code inspection system lacks sufficient coordination and communication among the different departments,” Wiener noted in a statement. “In addition, departments sometimes appear to be reluctant to pursue enforcement due to budget concerns.”

While the health department’s actions seem geared toward preventing ailments arising from poor housing conditions, the supervisors’ effort seems to stem from a quality-of-life concern. Cretan said his office regularly receives complaints from “really wired-in, aggressive Noe Valley neighbors.” He added, “People will call because they’re worried about hoarders.”


place that rents to vermin encouraging tweakers or a place that the landlord is just lazy?

This is a bit one sided "article," lets say filthy meth types rent in a building and harvest vermin? How is the landlord supposed to deal with vermin if they try and give human garbage the boot, and then the "progressives" go into hysterics?

The logic here seems to be that landlords can't kick anyone out, while the landlords are responsible for the disease that the renters bring in.

Posted by Matlock on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 6:57 pm

the landlord. But if tenants move out because of a few bugs, I suspect the landlord will be very happy. Rent control causes landlords to defer maintenance and tenants not to complain about conditions.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2014 @ 7:44 am

on your comment board? Isn't there anything you can do to eradicate them? Perhaps registration and maybe a wee bit moderation? Would that be too much to ask?

Posted by Greg on Jan. 09, 2014 @ 8:31 am

How to bed bugs get into a building if not from the people who live there?

If a tenant keeps bringing the same bugs back, what is a landlord to do?

I get that you think everyone is a victim of the conspiracy and that victim journalism is high journalism, but why doesn't the Guardian try at least a little balance on these things?

The progressive mindset that anyone slightly better off than you is a victimizer is one of the reasons you can't poll past a fee kooks in a few areas of the country.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2014 @ 9:03 am

Let's make this a lefties only zone. No dissent!

Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2014 @ 9:17 am

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