Topic Brief

Building Facades: San Francisco Inspection Requirements

December 5, 2017
Building Facades: San Francisco Inspection Requirements

Damaged and deteriorated building facades are a serious public safety concern. The damage also affects the appearance of buildings that play significant roles in San Francisco’s culture and history. When facade elements fail, there is a chance the component could fall—putting people and property at risk. As a result, many cities, including Boston, Chicago, and New York, have adopted facade ordinances.

The City of San Francisco recognizes this potential hazard and wants to reduce damage during earthquakes. In April 2016, the City added Chapter 16E as a local amendment to the California Building Code outlining the City’s requirements for inspecting and maintaining existing building facades. While the ordinance’s purpose is to help ensure buildings are maintained and continue to meet approved design and construction requirements, it does not require upgrades to meet modern structural and seismic standards.

The facade inspection and maintenance ordinance is accompanied by Administrative Bulletin (AB) 110, issued by the Department of Building Inspection. AB 110 details the application of the ordinance, including inspection and maintenance procedures to protect historic buildings.


The ordinance has the following requirements:

  • Basis: The ordinance is based on ASTM E2270 – Standard Practice for Periodic Inspection of Building Facades for Unsafe Conditions, as revised and interpreted by AB 110.
  • Scope: Exterior facades of all buildings five or more stories high (and some courtyards) must be inspected for unsafe conditions, movement, significant deterioration, and watertightness. Buildings with comprehensive facade inspection and repairs completed in the 10 yrs before the due date may apply for a waiver.
  • Frequency: Buildings (defined above) must be inspected every 10 yrs or within 60 days of a facade failure. First inspections are due between 2021 and 2027, depending on the building’s initial construction date (see table below). Buildings permitted after 1998 shall begin initial inspections 30 yrs after the Certificate of Final Completion.
  • Inspector: The inspector must be a California-licensed architect or engineer retained by the property owner. For buildings considered historic resources, the inspector must have expertise inspecting and maintaining these types of buildings.
  • Report: The inspector must prepare a written inspection report documenting the exterior walls’ condition and submit the report to the Department of Building Inspection.
  • Fees: The City will charge their standard hourly rates for report review, evaluation, and processing to administer the ordinance.
Compliance Tier Building Construction Completion Date Inspection Report Due Date
1 Prior to 1910 31 December 2021
2 Between 1910 and 1925 31 December 2023
3 Between 1926 and 1970 31 December 2025
4 After 1970 31 December 2027
Hands-on condition assessment reveals delaminated stone


A facade inspection may include the following activities:

  • Reviewing available plans and specifications to gain general understanding and help focus survey to problem areas
  • Surveying interior areas for signs of water damage and interviewing maintenance personnel about leakage history
  • Determining if the building is a historic resource, as listed by the Planning Department
  • Using binoculars to scan walls for large-scale problems
  • Conducting hands-on inspections of representative areas on each face of the facade, which may require swing stage or industrial rope access
  • Sounding materials to evaluate internal cohesion and attachment
  • Making observations at exploratory openings, if necessary
  • Preparing and submitting a report to the Department of Building Inspection


Facade inspection

Inspection from a swing stage

If the inspector identifies unsafe conditions, the owner must submit a stabilization or protection plan to the Department of Building Inspection within 72 hrs. The inspector can help the owner determine necessary stabilization measures and prioritize repairs to fit with financial plans.

Facade repairs recommended by the report need to be submitted through the normal permitting process. The process to develop and execute repairs often includes the following services performed by the designer of record:

  • Developing plans for additional observations or exploratory openings as required to understand construction details and conditions
  • Producing construction drawings and specifications clearly communicating repair work for bidding, permitting, and construction
  • Assisting the owner during bidding
  • Working with contractors to develop budgets, schedules, and phasing plans
  • Interfacing with the City for permitting
  • Observing as-built construction for comparison with the design intent

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