Soft Story Retrofit for California

Foundation Repair for Lateral Analysis

The Mandatory Soft Story Retrofit Program was created by the Earthquake Safety Implementation Program in 2013 as a community-based multi-year effort. It was enforced initially to ensure the safety and resilience of the housing stock in San Francisco through foundation repair retrofitting wood-framed, older multi-family units with the soft-story condition. The regulation, however, has also made its way to Los Angeles.

Numerous commercial, residential and apartment buildings that have the soft-story condition (Los Angeles Foundation Repair). The term describes a building that has habitable room(s) over the garage, porch or carport area that isn’t specially designed for transmitting shear or lateral forces up to the above story.

Ordinances are being drafted by many California counties requiring all soft-story buildings be earthquake retrofitted. A report started to be developed in January 2014, by the city of Los Angeles, with cooperation from the Structure Engineers of Southern California among others that outlined a plan for the city for creating a seismic program to repair foundation in Los Angeles. The intention was for improving the city’s resiliency in the event of a significant seismic event.

Soft Story Retrofit Los Angeles

On December 8, 2014, the report ‘Resilience by Design‘ was issued. The plan included a recommendation for seismically evaluating and strengthening the soft-story multi-family buildings in Los Angeles City . Internal resources are used by the city to identify any soft-story buildings that the program effects repairing Concrete Foundations.

Property owners, under the law, have seven years to get the problem fixed. Officials have identified approximately 25,500 apartment complexes that they suspect need Foundation Repairs. Certain neighborhoods are affected more than others when it comes to the need for soft story retrofitting.

Foundation Repair Engineer

There appear to be daunting numbers in San Fernando Valley and on the Westside. More than half of the buildings are located in those two areas that were cited as being seismically vulnerable and in need for Foundation Inspection in Los Angeles. Nearly 5,270 apartment buildings in San Fernando Valley need to be Soft Story retrofitted. It affects over 90,000 rental units.

The Westside’s Palms neighborhood is especially vulnerable. The six-block stretch of Mentone Avenue has more than 120 structures on the list of buildings that the city says need to be repaired. Mid-century housing booms were experienced by these neighborhoods and fell victim to mid-century apartment design that have been proven to be deadly whenever a significant earthquake takes place. Doing Foundation Repairs in Los Angeles is vital at this point in time.

There are rental units over parking spots in soft-story buildings that are supported only be a couple or vertical columns rather than a solid foundation. The columns may buckle if an earthquake takes place. The building could end up pancaking and coming directly down on whatever is underneath it if they do not have Foundation Repairs or at minimum a Foundation Inspection Service.

LA Foundation Inspection
Los Angeles Soft Story Retrofit

Renters who live in one of the cited buildings are especially interested in this list.  It affects not only their safety but their finances as well.  In Los Angeles the demand for new housing is enormous.  Construction crews have been barely able to keep up with this demand, which has caused prices to skyrocket.        

However, losing rental units because of an earthquake is something that Los Angeles cannot afford. One reminder of what an earthquake is capable of doing to an LA housing market is the Northridge earthquake.  There were 49,000 apartment units that are removed from the marketplace in one morning alone in the 1994 earthquake.

Foundation Repairs are expensive.  The cost for them ranges from $70,000 up to $350,000 in order for a soft-story apartment to be able to meet these standards. A unanimous vote was cast by the LA City Council to pass on half of the costs of Soft Story retrofitting to tenants.  A $38 per month increase in rent across a ten-year time period will help to pay for Foundation Repair expenses, interest on loans for Soft Story retrofitting construction and seismic evaluation.  The Foundation Repair is still a very daunting task to undertake but should begin with Foundation Inspection.

Appearing on the list doesn’t mean that a landlord is automatically required to Repair Foundations from a building.  The list is comprised of a compilation of vulnerable buildings that have been seen by inspectors as part of a door-to-door search along with an examination of city records. Closer inspection might demonstrate that a property meet all of the necessary standards that result in the retrofit being waived.

Soft Story Retrofit compliance orders started to be mailed in May. The first to receive orders were large apartment owners. Large apartment buildings have 16 units at least.  Owners will receive the next orders with multi-family buildings that have less than 16 units.   
There are several options available to property owners.  Within two years they must either prove their building’s structure can withstand the seismic activity of an earthquake, submit to the city their San Francisco Soft Story retrofitting plans or demolish their buildings.  The Eartquake retrofit Foundation must be done within seven years of receiving the compliance order.

Tenant rent increases will have a negative impact on their finances, but it is more critical to keep tenants safer during an earthquake. The fear is that mandatory Soft Story retrofits in L.A & San Francisco will cause prices to surge for qualified structural engineers and construction contractors and has caused a shortage of Foundation Inspection Services.

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