Recent destructive earthquakes have shown that many existing buildings, particularly in developing countries, are not safe against seismic actions. Since code-based seismic safety evaluation methods generally require detailed and complex structural analysis, the necessity for simplified, yet sufficiently accurate evaluation methods emerges for reducing cost and duration of assessment procedures. In this study, a performance based rapid seismic safety assessment method (PERA) is proposed for reinforced concrete buildings. The overall structural performance is determined based on the demand/capacity ratios of individual columns, as well as their failure modes (brittle/ductile), confinement characteristics, and levels of axial and shear stresses. The lateral drift of the critical story, calculated through a simplified approach, is also taken into account during determination of the global structural performance. The predictions of this method are compared with the results of conventional detailed seismic safety assessment analyses carried out for 672 different cases representing typical reinforced concrete frame buildings in Turkey. Good agreement is obtained between the predictions of the proposed algorithm and code-based structural performance assessment procedures. Finally, predictions of the proposed approach are compared with actual damages observed in 21 existing buildings in Turkey after destructive earthquakes that have occurred during the last two decades. These comparisons also point to an acceptable level of accuracy and sufficient conservatism for the methodology proposed.