Recent earthquakes in Southern California are a reminder of how renters are especially vulnerable in the event of an earthquake in San Mateo County.
Many older buildings in the county are “soft-story” structures that lack shear walls or are built above carports and garages without needed supports.
Most renters are not aware of whether or not their buildings have been retrofitted. Owners receive fault line disclosures when they purchase a house or building, but California doesn’t require that renters receive them. The volatile rental market causes people to move frequently and large numbers of new renters have never experienced a serious earthquake. Such volatility makes it nearly impossible to establish self-reliant communities that can prepare for a disaster. Renters also lack secure outdoor storage spaces for earthquake supplies. We need a countywide inspection of older buildings and programs to inform current and prospective tenants of their risks. Low-interest retrofit loans could be offered to landlords in exchange for agreements that tenants will not incur higher rents or displacement because of structural improvements. Renters need to be encouraged by the county, cities and landlords to prepare for disasters together and establish protocols and shared survival kits. We can and must do this in San Mateo County; if such measures aren’t taken and we are at the epicenter of a large quake, we will lose a lot of people. This is vital earthquake preparation that is currently being overlooked and neglected.
The letter writer is the founder of Housing For All Burlingame.