What You Need to Know About the New Soft-Story Retrofit

Last year in October, the Council of the City of Los Angeles passed Ordinance # 183893 mandating the retrofitting of residential and mixed-use, wood-framed, soft-story buildings that have four or more dwelling units.  Included in this ordinance are a number of non-ductile concrete buildings as well. Most of these buildings were constructed prior to the revised building codes enacted prior to January 1, 1978.

What is a Soft-Story Building?

It is a structure that has a weaker first floor and is unable to carry the weight of the upper stories during a seismic event. The first floor generally has larger openings in the perimeter walls for windows, gates, and most often, tuck-under parking. These bottom floor openings make it more likely that a building will collapse in the event of a major earthquake.

We, at BMC, understand living in Los Angeles that a sizable seismic event will have catastrophic effects on the entire city.  Our city’s ability to perform search and rescue, transport injured people to hospitals, or fight fires started when gas lines rupture will be strained by the damage and debris, even if only a small portion of its multi-unit buildings collapse.  Even those buildings that do not completely collapse will likely be unsafe to occupy until they are evaluated and repaired. The displacement of population increases and this is a major factor driving the immediate need to retrofit weak-story buildings.

During the 1971 San Fernando earthquake, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the 1994 Northridge earthquake, a significant number of soft-story buildings sustained major damage or completely collapsed.  To ensure this doesn’t happen again to the multi-family housing industry, we are taking measures to make sure you, as building owners, have the information and the education you need about seismic retrofitting.  BMC is also working with the licensed engineers, contractors and architects to make sure the have the right materials at the best cost for your seismic project.  Below is a short checklist to determine if your building is in need of a retrofit to meet the requirements of the new law.

Retrofit Checklist for Building Owners

  1. Does your building have four or more units and was constructed prior to January 1, 1978?
  2. Verify your building is within the scope of the mandatory retrofit ordinance
  3. Find a licensed engineer to survey and assess your building in accordance with the city requirements
  4. Hire a contractor and if needed, an architect
  5. Submit plans for your building’s retrofit, including: structural analysis / calculation package, architectural plans and structural plans.

The Department of Building and Safety will assist building owners with all the steps needed to obtain the appropriate retrofit permits, including clearances from all other agencies during your building’s retrofit work.