Sunday, September 24, 2023
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Tumbling House Raises Eyebrows in SF

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - After a house slid down a hill, San Francisco took a look and claims in court that a port commissioner who once ran the city's building inspection unit runs his real estate company as if he is "above the law."

City officials say they were prompted to look closely at Mel Murphy's projects after a house he was remodeling came off its foundation and slid down a steep San Francisco hillside.

An investigation into properties owned by Murphy and his wife, Nuannoi Murphy, "uncovered a far-reaching pattern of unlawful business practices and rampant violations of building, housing and safety codes," the City Attorney's Office said in a statement.

The city attorney sued the Murphys, their trusts, and 104 Tara LLC in Superior Court on Wednesday.

The 26-page lawsuit focuses on the house that tumbled down the slope, and two other projects.

In 2007, when Murphy first tried to turn a small single-family home into a four-story, four-unit building, the city rejected his permit application. The next year he asked to demolish the home and build a new structure, but faced with the prospect of public hearings he withdrew his application, the city says.

Finally, in 2013, a building permit for a remodel was granted, but because of the steep site, the project was subject to the Slope Protection Act, which requires a review of structural integrity and slope stability.

Murphy agreed to comply with 10 conditions imposed by the city, including design, review, engineering and, importantly, that the "temporary shoring system for the lifted building shall be designed to resist environmental loads such as wind/seismic," according to the complaint.

But the city says Murphy failed to follow the proper construction sequence or have the shoring work independently inspected.

"On December 16, 2013, at approximately 10:30 p.m., the existing single-family house at 125 Crown Terrace fell off of its shoring and slid down the hill," the city says.

The collapse, which placed "neighbors and the general public at risk of injury," could have been prevented if Murphy had followed the approved plans, the city claims.

The city also cites a multi-unit, multi-story building for which Murphy poured a foundation and built the first floor before even applying for permits.

Despite the requirement that such buildings provide disabled-accessible parking, Murphy installed eight non-accessible spaces, the city claims. When confronted with the violation, he reconfigured the parking to comply, but changed it back once he received the city's final sign-off.

Murphy should know better, the city says, because he spent more than nine years in city government, has lived in San Francisco since the 1970s and is a licensed real estate broker, contractor and developer.

As a member and onetime president of San Francisco's Building Inspection Commission, he not only interpreted and enforced the law, "he meted out punishment to property owners and developers who were found to have violated San Francisco's Building, Housing, Electrical, Plumbing and Mechanical Codes."

"Defendants' pattern of behavior makes clear that they do not act as if the laws apply to them - the same laws San Francisco trusted Mel Murphy to enforce as a member of the (Building Inspection Commission,)" the city says.

It also claims that while he was on the building and port commissions, Murphy violated city campaign and government conduct code by failing to disclose all the rental income he received.

The city alleges violations of state housing statutes, public nuisance and unfair business practices.

It asks the court to prevent the Murphys from renting, using, leasing or occupying the hillside and multi-unit properties until they fully comply with local and state laws, and to require the Murphys to allow site inspections before any permit is granted for any property they own, operate, maintain or develop.

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