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New Bill Proposed to Radically Improve Apartment Building Cost and Design

In a bid to improve the supply, quality, and ease of constructing housing, California Assembly Member Alex Lee (AD 24) introduced a bill that could allow for the legalization of single-staircase buildings over three floors as early as 2026. Co-authored by Senator Scott Wiener (SD-11) and Assembly Member Christopher Ward (AD-78), the bill would instruct the State Fire Marshal to include proposed standards for single-staircase multifamily, residential buildings above three stories, for which single-staircase design is already permitted. 

The bill was spearheaded by Livable Communities Initiative Los Angeles with East Bay for Everyone, groups that support urban reform enhancing housing supply and walkability. Proponents of single-staircase buildings argue that mandating two stairways in apartment buildings wastes significant space, making units smaller and more expensive. Without staircases at both ends of the building, more units are able to make use of cross-drafts, which lowers energy costs, and allows for more light throughout the day. 

Opponents, meanwhile, suggest fire safety concerns override efficiency and quality of life gains, noting incidents such as the notorious Triangle Factory Fire, during which 146 workers in New York died due to lack of a secondary fire escape. 

In Europe and Northeast Asia, where taller single-stair buildings are common, residential fire deaths are significantly lower than in the United States, where such buildings are banned, which suggests mandating two staircases has not significantly improved fire safety. 

Officially read and introduced to the California State Assembly on February 14, the bill is yet to have been assigned to committee. If the bill is approved, the State Fire Marshal could include the new regulations in their 2025 building code, which would take effect in January of 2026.