Soft-Story Retrofit FAQs

The mandatory Los Angeles soft-story retrofit program is well into its fourth year. But many business and property owners still have questions. We have put together this list of the most frequently asked questions we get from our clients in order to help you better understand the process.

Q. What is the Mandatory Soft-Story Retrofit Program?
A. Los Angeles passed two city ordinances, 183893 and 184081, in 2015 that mandate certain buildings undergo an earthquake retrofit if they do not meet the new safety standards. These ordinances were created to prevent loss of life during an earthquake by reducing the damage done to buildings during a seismic event.

Q. What buildings are affected by these new safety standards?
A. After the Northridge earthquake of 1994, city officials assessed the damage and determined that two types of buildings are vulnerable to earthquakes: soft-story wood-framed buildings, and non-ductile concrete buildings.

Q. What is a soft-story building?
A. A soft-story building is any structure that is three or more stories high. These structures are built over open spaces, like a parking garage or commercial space and usually include large windows. The ground floor does provide enough support for the upper floors and they tend to collapse during a major earthquake.

Q. What is a non-ductile concrete building?
A. Almost all concrete buildings built before 1976 are considered non-ductile

Q. How do I know if my building needs a retrofit?
A.  Los Angeles city officials sent out a letter of compliance to all property owners of the thousands of buildings on their mandatory list. If you did not receive a letter, but want to know if your building meets the current safety standards, you can contact a soft-story retrofit company for a consultation. RetroFitting 360 offers this first consultation free of charge.

Q. What if the engineer decides my building does not need a retrofit?
A. While the city assessed thousands of buildings, they did not inspect them in detail. Even if the engineer determines that your building meets the current safety standards, you will still need to file an engineering report with the city to be compliant.

Q. What do I do if I need a retrofit?
A. A seismic retrofit is not a DIY project. You will need to hire a company that specializes in earthquake retrofits. 

Q. How long do I have to complete my Los Angeles soft-story retrofit?
A. That depends on what type of building you have. 
Soft-story buildings: You have two years from the time you receive the letter to comply to submit your engineering report, 3.5 years to obtain the permit, and seven years to have the work completed or demolish the building.
Non-ductile concrete buildings: You have three years from the time you receive the letter to comply to submit your plan and engineering report, within 10 years to submit a final report, retrofit plans or demolition plans, and within 25 years to obtain a permit, the work completed or the building demolished.

Q. What should I look for when hiring a retrofit company?
A. Since the rollout of the soft-story retrofit program, a number of companies have appeared on the scene. Make sure you hire a company that specializes in seismic retrofits. Find out how long they have been in business and how many projects they have completed. Check their resume for their qualifications and ask for a signed copy of their certificate of insurance.

Q. How much will my retrofit cost?
A. The answer to this question depends on a number of variables. First, the type of building you own, is it a soft-story or non-ductile concrete? How big the building is and how old it is will also determine the costs, as well as how much work needs to be done to bring it up to the current safety codes.

Q. How long is the retrofit process?
A. The complete process, from beginning to end, is quite long. That is why the city has allowed property owners plenty of time to get it done. Exactly how long it will take again depends on a number of things. Do your retrofit plans pass the city’s approval the first time? Will they need to be redone? Once the plans are approved it takes about 30 days to get the permit to start work. How long construction takes will depend on how much work needs to be done. After the construction is finished, you will need to get an inspector from the city to come out and do an assessment to make sure it passes.

Q. What happens if I don’t comply with the soft-story retrofit program?
A. If you received a letter from the city to perform a mandatory retrofit, and your building is in need of one, failing to comply is a misdemeanor. You could be prosecuted, fined, and/or face administrative enforcement.

Q. Can I charge my tenants more rent to cover the costs of my retrofit?
A. Yes. After many meetings with landlord and tenant groups, the city council passed the 50 50 Cost Sharing Plan. Landlords can recover half the cost of the retrofit with increased rent spread out over a 10 year period. The rent increase does have a cap of $38.

Q. What if I can’t afford the retrofit costs?
A. Unfortunately, there are no programs or grants to help with these costs. Once, the work is completed, there are programs that will help you recover part of the costs. If you simply can’t afford the costs out of pocket, you may need to take out a loan. A simple Google search will help you find companies willing to finance your retrofit, just read the fine print and keep an eye on the interest rates.

We go into more detail on all of these topics on our blog page. At RetroFitting 360 our goal is to simplify your Los Angeles soft-story retrofit project as much as humanly possible. If you still have questions, feel free to give us a call. One of our courteous staff will be happy to answer any other questions you may have.