Mandatory Soft-Story Program

earthquake car damage

In 2013, MSSP or The Mandatory Soft-Story Program was created as a multi-year community- based effort, which was led by the Earthquake Safety Implementation Program and enforced by the Department of Buildings Inspection to ensure the resilience and the safety of San Francisco’s housing stock through the retrofit of wood-framed, older (built before 1978), and multi-family buildings with a soft-story condition.

The Earthquake Safety Implementation Program

The Earthquake Safety Implementation Program (ESIP) accordingly began before the Mandatory Soft-Story Program,  in early 2012, evolving out of the key recommendations of the Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety (CAPSS), a 10-year long study evaluating the vulnerabilities San Francisco faces to earthquakes. As a part of the Mandatory soft-story program, all the property owners being affected were noticed in September 2013 and were required to have submitted their screening forms to DBI by September 15, 2014. Buildings that have not complied with this requirement have been placarded and issued Notices of Violation (NOV).

Notices of Violation

Buildings being in violation of the Notices of Violation (NOV) are subject to the enforcement of the Building Code. The buildings being in violation of the program will be announced with an “Earthquake Warming” placed noticing the owner of the building, their tenants, as well as the general public of the risk posed by the building. In case the building owners do not complete the retrofitting works within the deadlines, they will be sent to a Director of Hearing to come before a Hearing Officer and report the reason they have not complied with.
The issuance of a Notice, or Citation, or referral to an administrative hearing, is not the end of this process. Code Enforcement is finished when:

  • All required corrective work is completed as verified through a final inspection by the pertinent division inspectors.

  • Required permits are issued and completed, as verified by a final inspection by the appropriate division inspector in which the permit job card is signed-off indicating all work is completed.

  • All assessment of costs, reinspection fees, penalties, or any other applicable code enforcement fees are paid.

  • All documents necessary to revoke any pertinent Orders of Abatement are recorded.

  • All related complaints on file in the Department’s Complaint Tracking System are “abated”.

Soft-Story Property Owners

The Mandatory Soft Story Retrofit program requires soft-story property owners to seismically strengthen vulnerable buildings that have an increased risk of danger during an earthquake. These buildings are older, wood-framed, multi-family buildings with a soft-story condition.

This program has been designed to increase the safety of your building and your tenants, as well as protect your investment, during an earthquake. It requires that, if your building has been determined through a screening process involving the Department of Building Inspection and a licensed design professional to be a part of this program, your building undergo a seismic retrofit. This will require work to be done to the lower level (only) of your building, and this work will be started and completed according to the tier in which your building has been screened.

We cannot predict when the next earthquake will strike, but we can work together to protect ourselves and our properties. Go ahead if you want to know how to comply with this program.

Property Tiers

Properties identified under this Program have been divided into four property tiers.

  • Tier I - Any building containing educational, assembly, or residential care facility uses

  • Tier II - Any building containing 15 or more dwelling units

  • Tier III - Any building not falling within another tier

  • Tier IV - Any building containing ground floor commercial uses (Building Code Occupancy B or M), or any building in a mapped liquefaction zone.

Your building may be exempted from this Program if the building that has been seismically strengthened to meet or exceed the standards of Section 1604.11 of the San Francisco Building Code or its predecessor provisions within 15 years prior to the operative date of Chapter 34B of the San Francisco Building Code is exempt if work is shown to be properly permitted and completed. Also, if your building has completed voluntary seismic strengthening under the provisions of Administrative Bulletin AB-094.

Also consider that the construction is limited to the ground floor where large openings such as garages or commercial storefronts take away the shear walls of the building.

earthquake safety program

Steps To Comply With the Program Requirements

There are four essential steps to comply with the program requirements, which are enlightened below:

  • Work with a licensed design professional to obtain plans & calculations prior to permit application submittal.

Before you visit our offices, you’ll need to have two sets of plans prepared by a licensed architect, civil or structural engineer. Drawings shall be a minimum size of 11”x17” and drawn to scale at a minimum of 1/8"=1'0". The first page of plans is required to be wet-signed and stamped by the design professional of record. The following pages may have a signature facsimile and professional seal with a valid registration number. The submittal documents should also include one set of structural calculations with the cover pages wet-signed and stamped.

  • Visit DBI at 1660 Mission Street to file the permit application.

Once you have the plans completed, visit DBI’s 1st-floor information counter at 1660 Mission Street and complete permit application Form 3/8. Once the form is complete, staff will check the application for completeness and direct you to the required routing stations based on the proposed scope of work.

  • Proceed with work accordingly once the permit is issued. 

It is important to know that as construction work begins, you will need to keep track of required inspections. Before the construction work has begun, you will need to contact the district inspector and ensure that any and all special inspections are completed and signed off by the special inspector prior to your Final Inspection.  All inspections must be completed and signed off before the compliance tier deadline.

  • Completion in compliance with the Mandatory Seismic Retrofit Program.

You will need to request the issuance of the Certificate of Final Completion (CFC) once the job card is signed off after a Final Inspection by the building inspector. A copy of the CFC document will then need to be submitted to the Soft Story Counter Window #8 on the 1st Floor at 1660 Mission Street.