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NewsGovernmentAssemblymember Alex Lee pushes for single-stairway apartment buildings

Assemblymember Alex Lee pushes for single-stairway apartment buildings

Per current California law, apartment buildings that are above three stories require two stairway exit routes. But this requirement has been shown to impact the size, cost, and design of new housing while also putting limits on the work of architects. Costs go up and buildings cannot fit comfortably in smaller lots. 

Enter Assemblymember Alex Lee, with AB 835. The bill directs the State Fire Marshal to begin researching the prospect of constructing apartment buildings over three stories tall with a single stairway and a single exit while still adhering to fire safety standards. Governor Gavin Newsom has already signed it.

Notably, AB 835 does not propose changing current building standards. It exists to spur a report from the Fire Marshal, presenting the new research while also addressing fire and life safety or emergency issues. The report is due on January 1, 2026. 

Lee wrote in an email to The Beat, “I see AB 835 as a first step to revising California’s building code on apartment staircases. If California were to permit single-staircase apartments above three stories, we could unlock previously undevelopable properties, and create more high density housing. Single-stair apartments also allow for more efficient use of building spaces, along with a greater variety of housing units.”

Lee went on to share, “Single-staircase buildings are common worldwide, and for good reason. Take Norway for example. It allows single-staircase apartments up to eight stories. To ensure fire safety, the country also requires each unit to have a window or balcony, and a maximum travel distance to the stairwell.”

He cited how New York City and Seattle both allow single-staircase buildings up to six stories high, and how Switzerland puts no maximum height limit on single-exit apartments. Yet safety standards are upheld in all those locations, with people in Switzerland being about five times less likely to die in fires than those in the U.S.

“I’m proud that the Governor has signed AB 835,” wrote Lee, “and the bill has received broad support from housing advocates and local government. This is just the beginning of our work to bring single-stair apartments above three stories to California.”



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Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro is a writer & filmmaker. As a screenwriter, he’s won a Fade In Award and written numerous feature films in development by companies including WWE, Mandalay Sports Media, Game1, and Select Films. He is also the resident script doctor for Rebel Six Films (producers of A&E’s “Hoarders”). As a journalist, Eric’s won a California Journalism Award and is co-owner and editor of The Milpitas Beat, a Silicon Valley newspaper with tens of thousands of monthly readers that has won the Golden Quill Award as well as the John Swett Award for Media Excellence. As a filmmaker, Eric’s directed award-winning feature films that have premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival, Fantastic Fest, and Shriekfest, and been endorsed by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Eric’s apocalyptic novella “It’s Only Temporary” appears next to Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” on Nightmare Magazine’s list of the 100 Best Horror Novels of All Time. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Rhoda, and their two sons.

1 COMMENT

  1. I commend our Assembly member Alex Lee for his efforts to create more affordable housing. What irks me is “The report is due on January 1, 2026.” Two full years to generate a report using existing data and research? And after dawdling for 2 years, then the legislature can consider a bill that takes effect 2 years after that, starting in 2028. We need a bigger, faster answer to our housing crisis.
    .
    A growing body of evidence highlights the fact that unregulated capitalism is largely to blame for the problem, especially outside investors buying up local homes. Whether those investors are Chinese living in China, Wall Street scoundrels, or Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, they are in it for the money, not for the well-being of our community.
    .
    Here are a few ways to restrict foreign/investor ownership:
    1) raising property taxes for foreign ownership;
    2) restrict resale of properties to California residents;
    3) limit ownership to 100 units.
    .
    Progressive author and talk-show host Thom Hartmann lays out the case here: https://hartmannreport.com/p/wall-streets-barrons-are-causing
    In this 42-minute audio segment, he talks about financial Goliaths stripping neighborhoods of homes families can buy, and then raising rents as high as the market will bear – causing homelessness.
    http://dl.thomhartmann.com/private/podcasts/2021_1014_thp-101421-hour1.mp3

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