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How to fix (almost) anything in your SF neighborhood

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From stopping rat infestations to planting trees

One block of colorful Victorian apartment buildings against a blue sky. Photo via Shutterstock

It takes one mouse scurrying across the floor or one gag-inducing sewer line eruption to make your living situation hellish. Fortunately, San Francisco has protocols for quashing many quality-of-life issues when they arise.

The city’s 311 number kicked off in 2007. By calling the telephone number, residents can get free, 24/7 information from a real person (i.e., not a recording) about all nonemergency services in the city, from reporting vandalism to fixing darkened streetlights. There’s also a 311 app available. Depending on the issue reported, success rates vary.

While San Francisco has an abundance of problems, we’ve picked out the most common and most fixable issues facing denizens of the city.

How do I file a noise complaint?

San Francisco isn’t known for its quietness, but if you live in a city, the occasional “boom,” “crash,” and “vroom” are par for the course. There are some types of ruckuses, though—endless screeching, nearby construction, cars revving—that go beyond the fray. Complaints about unreasonable noise are handled by different agencies depending on the location of the noise problem.

Noise issues created by neighbors, such as barking dogs, loud music, parties, loud voices, or work projects between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., should be directed to the police non-emergency at (415) 553-0123 if problem is in progress. For noise issues no longer in process, you should let 311 know via its noise feedback page.

Building construction at any legal noise level can occur between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m., seven days a week, including holidays. Complaints about noisy construction during off hours should be directed to the Department of Building Inspection at (415) 558-6570. You can also file a complaint online.

Persistent noise issues within a multi-tenant building should involve the landlord if the problem persists. Contact the San Francisco Rent Board for more information at (415) 252-4602.

What do I do if my apartment doesn’t have heat or hot water?

The Landlord Obligations Law of California civil code section 1941.1 requires landlords to provide and maintain an adequate supply of hot running water and a heat system.

Other aquatic complaints include water clarity, color, or the presence of particles. If speckled or discolored water persists, SF Water recommends the following: “Check for persistent discoloration by opening the cold water tap closest to the water meter and let it run for 3-5 minutes to see if it clears up. If the water does not run clear after a 5 minute flush, close the fixture, wait one hour and repeat (may take several hours for sediments to settle in the water main). [...] If your hot water does not run clear, it is possible that the dirty/discolored water has entered your hot water heater or boiler. To avoid drawing discolored water into your water heater/boiler, avoid using the hot water until the cold water clears up. In that case, it is recommended that you call a plumber to flush the water heater or boiler.”

Landlords should pay for water repairs.

How do I get repairs made in my apartment?

Your landlord should be your first stop for big issues like a broken refrigerator, cracked window, or mouse infestation. Provide documentation and photo evidence of the issue that needs fixing. Be sure to email and/or text the request to your landlord so that you have a (digital) paper trail.

How do I get rid of bedbugs, mice, or rats?

Just like other major metropolitan areas, San Francisco has its own festering vermin problems—and bedbug and mouse infestations are considered to be in violation of both the San Francisco Health Code and the California Housing Code. Property owners and tenants share a responsibility to maintain housing conditions free of pest infestations.

In San Francisco, property owners or managers must respond to tenant complaints by hiring a licensed pest control operator to investigate and treat the infested housing unit. Landlords who try to pass the cost of bedbug treatment on to tenants are violating their legal obligation as noted in California civil code section 1941.1, which protects tenants from landlords ignoring vermin, a definition that includes mice, cockroaches, and bedbugs.

Note: While your landlord is responsible for getting rid of the bedbugs, you will have to wash your sheets (and any infested rugs, clothing, etc.) and replace your mattress (and other infested furniture) on your dime. Once treatment begins, bedbug eradication could take up to 30 days or more.

How do I report a burned-out streetlight?

To report a streetlight issue, call or visit 311.

How do I get the city to plant a street tree?

San Francisco has 124,000-plus trees, but it could always use more. Get your arboreal action on legally—and anyway, there is no fee required for a tree-planting permit—to ensure that street trees don’t impact infrastructure. They must be planted so that they thrive and won’t upend sidewalk cement or damage sewage lines.

A Public Works inspector will evaluate a proposed location and tree species. For species options, check out the Recommended Street Tree and Plant List.

How do I get the city to trim a tree?

Overgrown trees can be dangerous, especially if branches get loose. To request a tree pruning, call the Public Works Urban Forestry department at 415-554-6700.

What if I have bulk trash items to be picked up?

Large discarded items like mattresses or ironing boards shouldn’t be left on sidewalks with the hope of someone whisking away your unwieldy trash. Instead, schedule a pickup with Recology’s bulky item recycling program. Furniture, large kitchen appliances, and more can be picked up for free by Recology twice a year.

You’ll be asked about which items you want to discard, then asked to place them on the curb the night before they’re due to be picked up.

Craigslist is also good for getting people to come to your place to haul away goods. Nonprofits like Out of the Closet may also haul items away for you. Call them to find out more.

How do I report damaged sidewalks or street potholes?

Cracked, broken, or otherwise damaged sidewalks are hazardous for pedestrians. If a sidewalk is broken in front of your building, it’s your landlord’s job to have it repaired. Same goes for business owners. Luckily, San Francisco Public Works has an inspection and repair program that makes it easy for property owners to comply with city and state codes that mandate them to keep their sidewalks free of defects. Most repairs can also be sent to 311, but Public Works has a detailed list on how to repair.

Potholes can be reported to 311’s pothole portal. Any pothole deemed the city’s responsibility will, ideally, be repaired within 72 hours during weekdays. Before calling, note the street address and the nearest cross street where the offending pothole is located.

Should I get my supervisor involved about chronic neighborhood issues?

Yes, absolutely; they would love nothing more. Supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer (District 1), Catherine Stefani (D2), Aaron Peskin (D3), Gordon Mar (D4), Vallie Brown / Dean Preston (D5—Brown will leave office in mid-December, which is when Peston will likely be sworn in), Matt Haney (D6), Norman Yee (D7), Rafael Mandelman (D8), Hillary Ronen (D9), Shamann Walton (D10), and Ahsha Safaí (D11) were elected by their constituents to hear about neighborhood issues.

Don’t know which supervisor is yours? Find out here.