Update: SFO Leaning Tower Found To Be Fire Hazard

December 27, 2017

San Francisco's NBC Bay Area affiliate has brought to light a situation that could be “a life and fire safety hazard to the occupants” that was not immediately disclosed to residents of the tilting Millennium Tower.

The tower houses luxury condos and was constructed on an allegedly faulty foundation in downtown San Francisco. Since it was built in 2008, the 58-story building has sunk at least 17 inches (and counting) into its sand foundation, causing the structure to lean about 15 inches towards the neighboring Saleforce Building. As the tilting has continued, structural problems such as cracks in walls, uneven floors, leaking windows, and water creeping through fissures in the parking garage walls have led to multiple lawsuits seeking to find blame, fund a fix, and recover money for condo owners. Rancid, stinking water collecting between walls and floors has added to the unpleasant conditions.

Now, a greater problem has emerged that is much more than unpleasant - it is life-threatening.

After condo owner Paula Pretlow hired Palo Alto, California–based consultants Allana Buick & Bers to locate the source of mysterious odors in her unit in December of 2016, it was discovered that the stink was likely coming from newly enlarged voids under the glass and metal outer facade (curtain wall) that have opened up as the building continues to sink and lean.

Those voids in the facade panels, besides carrying foul odors, can also draw fire and smoke up the tower in a wind-tunnel effect, similar to the incident at London's Grenfell Tower earlier this year.

While the consultants analysis was conducted in only Pretlow's 31st-floor unit, the Allana Buick & Bers initial report said, “This condition may be more widespread than these two test areas and may be present in the entire stack. We recommend further investigation of this issue. These openings represent a breach in the fire and smoke barrier … which is a life and fire safety hazard to the occupants.”

However, in the final report given to Pretlow, the consultants' recommendation was removed. After a year of wrangling, Pretlow obtained the original version of the report and has filed a new complaint with the SFO fire department.

Engineers have estimated the Millennium Tower will continue to sink, probably at a rate of one inch per year.