In 2015, LA ordinance 184081 and ordinance 183893 were approved aiming to implement new seismic code for the buildings having so-called soft-story conditions.
The goal of the mandatory retrofit program, under Ordinance 183893 and Ordinance 184081, is to reduce structural deficiencies by the most economical and feasible method. Without proper strengthening, these vulnerable buildings may be subjected to structural failure during and/or after an earthquake.
The Term “Soft-Story”
The term “soft-story” refers to one level of a building that is significantly more flexible or weak in lateral load resistance than the stories above it and the floors or the foundation below it. This condition can occur in any of the conventional construction types and is typically associated with large openings in the walls or an exceptionally tall story height in comparison to the adjacent stories. These soft stories can present a very serious risk in the event of an earthquake, both in human safety and financial liability.
The common sources of soft-story vulnerability include:
Ground floor tuck-under parking beneath wood-framed residential apartment buildings.
Tall first-floor story heights, typical in older mid-rise and high-rise commercial office buildings where the first floor is generally twice the height of a normal floor above.
Retail buildings with the storefront constructed mostly of glass.
Multi-use buildings in urban environments with commercial retail tenants on the ground floor with large glass storefronts and apartment residences above.
The ordinance 184081 identifies the time limits for compliance for the soft-story retrofit program. Within two years, the owner should submit a structural analysis for review and approval to:
Submit structural analysis to demonstrate existing compliance
Submit a structural analysis to demonstrate a proposed structural alteration to meet seismic retrofit requirements
Plans for demolition of the building.
Within three and a half years after service of the order, obtain all necessary permits for rehabilitation or demolition.
Within seven years after service of the order, complete construction or demolition work under all necessary permits.
New Retrofit Ordinances
If your property does not have any of the characteristics that are going to be pointed below, you will not need to comply with the new retrofit ordinances. But here is where things can get tricky, the ordinance only applies to wooden-structure buildings that are made of brick, so if your property is made of ductile concrete or masonry type (made of brick) your property is exempt from soft-story retrofitting. Ordinance 183893 and 184081 both determine what type of wooden-structure buildings will require a retrofit. Normally, a wooden structure that has open parking on the first floor or underground, in other words, directly below living space, is considered a weak "soft-story".
However, you have to retrofit your house if...
If the property has "tuck-in" parking.
If the property has "tuck-in" parking and has two or three stories.
If the property has "tuck-in" parking, or has two or three stories, as well as has more than three units.
What a Soft-Story Building Looks Like
You actually may not be familiar with what a soft-story building looks like, but they are easily identifiable. A soft-story building is any multi-story building in which one or more floors have windows, wide doors, large unobstructed commercial spaces, or other openings in places where a shear wall would normally be required for stability as a matter of earthquake engineering. A typical soft-story building is an apartment building of three or more stories located over a ground-level that has large openings, like tuck-in parking garages, or any other large openings. You can see what a typical soft-story apartment building looks like in the image above.
Find The Right Contractor
The Los Angeles Department of Building Safety identified 13,500 buildings in Los Angeles that will require some type of seismic retrofit. Getting the process started is easier said than done if you are looking for a good experience you'll need to do some research to find the right contractor for retrofitting.
The first step is to get a set of retrofit engineering plans to submit to the city, you will need to look for a professional construction company or contractor that have an engineer on staff, or else you'll need to look for a Professional Engineer independently.
The second step occurs once your plans are approved and are marked as "Ready to Issue" - you'll need to find a reputable general contractor to actually build your retrofit solution. Having a hard time finding a contractor you can trust? Check out our article if you want to hire the right contractor for your property retrofit.
The third step is to give your tenants notice of impending construction, you'll need to file a Tenant Habitability Plan (THP) with HCIDLA before any construction can begin. Don’t wait for the Big One to damage your building. You can get the soft story retrofit process started today. Deadlines for the Los Angeles Soft Story Retrofit are quickly approaching, don’t get fined for not being in compliance.