San Francisco has started using an unusual tactic to convince building owners to shore up their structures to better withstand earthquake shaking – Shame!

The city will slap large signs — in multiple languages, with red letters and a drawing of a destroyed building — on hundreds of apartment complexes that violate San Francisco’s seismic safety laws. No California city has gone so far to inform the public about potentially dangerous buildings and pressure property owners to make fixes.

The San Francisco notices, written in English, Spanish and Chinese, will go on buildings whose owners have not complied with a landmark city ordinance passed last year. The law requires that wood-frame apartment buildings and hotels be evaluated. The city estimates that up to 4,000 will need to be retrofitted under the law.

This has been tried before, in Berkeley. In 2005, the city began placing smaller warning signs on at-risk wooden apartment buildings and required owners to send letters to tenants warning that their home could pose “a severe threat to life safety.” City officials said that after the notifications, more than 100 buildings were retrofitted voluntarily. The city passed a mandatory law last year to get the 139 remaining buildings retrofitted.

San Francisco’s law covers many more buildings and is likely to attract more attention.

The law targets wood-frame apartments and hotels with weak first stories. Often, these first floors house garages, carports or storefronts with limited structural supports holding up the rest of the building. During a big earthquake, the upper floors can cave in on the first story.

Since I live in San Francisco, I will be on the look out! ;-)