Seismic Retrofit Work


Many of California seismic-prone cities now mandate the seismic retrofit works of buildings with “soft stories” to make them sound in the event of an earthquake. “Soft story” refers to the first floor of certain wood-frame buildings that are weaker and more flexible than the stories above. Those are floors with garages or open commercial spaces, and they are particularly vulnerable to severe damage and collapse.

Soft-Story Buildings

Originally, There was a significant damage to some areas of California housing inventory due to unsupported soft-story buildings during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The Dept. of Building Inspection estimates that soft-stories were responsible for 7,700 of the 16,000 units rendered uninhabitable by Loma Prieta, alone in San Francisco. Even following repairs, a significant portion of San Francisco structures exist on what would be considered vulnerable “liquefaction zones” by the U.S. Geological Survey.

To safeguard against this kind of destruction in the future, the mandatory retrofit program was adopted to meet California’s goals of addressing soft-story hazards by 2020, believing that “a resilient city is a city that can rebound from a natural disaster and quickly resume normal function”.

The Major Fault Lines

In 2014, the USGS warned that there is a 72-percent chance that "the big one," or an earthquake of a magnitude of at least 6.7 strikes California within the next 30 years. It is probably worth knowing where the major fault lines in the Bay Area are. According to the USGS, there are seven "significant" faults in the Bay Area: the San Andreas Fault, the Calaveras Fault, the Hayward Fault, the Concord-Green Valley Fault, the Greenville Fault, the Rodgers Creek Fault and the San Gregorio Fault.
The most significant of these faults is the San Andreas Fault, a 750-mile-long transform fault that runs across California. The largest earthquakes recorded on the San Andreas fault include the 1906 San Francisco earthquake with approximately magnitude 7.8 and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake with magnitude 6.9.

Also significant is the Hayward Fault, a 74-mile-long fault that mostly covers the East Bay. The largest earthquake in recorded history on this fault occurred in 1868 when an estimated magnitude 7.0 quake was originally dubbed the "Great San Francisco earthquake" until the one in 1906 struck.

When the "Big One" Happens?

In fact, when the "big one" happens, it is more likely to happen on the Hayward Fault than it is to happen on the San Andreas Fault.
According to the USGS, there is a 33-percent chance that an earthquake of magnitude 6.7 or greater strikes on the Hayward Fault within the next 30 years. The probability of a similar quake striking the San Andreas Fault in the same time period is 22 percent.
However, a quake of this magnitude would affect everyone in the Bay Area, and not just people living close to the fault line.
"If an earthquake on the Hayward Fault is big enough, it will still affect people on the SF Peninsula," USGS geophysicist Brian Kilgore told SFGATE. "The same is true for the San Andreas Fault, even though it's on the Peninsula, it will still affect people in the East Bay."

The Mandatory Seismic Retrofit Program

San Francisco’s mandatory seismic retrofit program applies to 3+ story buildings with five or more dwelling units built before 1978. DBI has notified owners of buildings affected by the mandatory seismic retrofit program. These buildings fall within one of four “compliance tiers”, which set the dates of permitting and completion of work.
As San Francisco applies rent/eviction controls to all multi-unit buildings completed before June 13, 1979, seismic retrofit work on pre-1978 buildings will necessarily engage rent and eviction control regulations in one of two ways:

  • Where landlords are required to terminate entire tenancies in order to perform seismic retrofit work, they may temporarily terminate these tenancies under one of the Rent Ordinance’s “just causes” for eviction for temporary capital improvement work. 

  • Where the landlord only needs access to garage/storage areas, they will need to temporarily sever any affected “housing services” connected with the rental unit.

The Mandatory Soft-Story Program

The Mandatory Soft-Story program was created in 2013 as a multi-year community-based effort led by the Earthquake Safety Implementation Program and enforced by the Department of Building Inspection to ensure the safety and resilience of San Francisco's housing stock through the retrofit of older, wood-framed, multi-family buildings with a soft-story condition.
As part of this program, all affected property owners were noticed beginning in September 2013 and were required to have submitted their screening forms to DBI by September 15, 2014. DBI has achieved over a 99% response to the program. Buildings that have not complied with this requirement have been placarded and issued Notices of Violation.
We encourage property owners of soft-story buildings to take the necessary steps to comply with program requirements by filing for a permit to ensure their properties are seismically safe in anticipation of the next big quake. 

compliance timeline and tier

The Need to Terminate the Tenancy

Rent Board Rule 12.15 allows temporary capital improvement (TCI) evictions, where the work would make the rental unit hazardous, unhealthy, and/or uninhabitable during the work. If the seismic retrofit work will disrupt the use of a rental unit to this level, then the landlord will need to terminate the tenancy before commencing work.

To perform a TCI eviction, the landlord will first need to obtain permits for the seismic retrofit work. If the work will take longer than 3 months, the landlord must also first file a petition with the Rent Board for an extension of time to complete capital improvements. The landlord then must serve a notice of termination of tenancy and if the tenant does not vacate, the landlord must evict them.

As this is a temporary termination of tenancy, Rent Board Rule 12.16 provides for a statutory “right to reoccupy”, where a landlord must provide written notice of the tenant’s ability to reoccupy the rental unit upon completion of repairs. Interestingly, case law provides that this right to reoccupy actually survives an eviction, in the event where a tenant does not timely vacate.

If Army of Builders can be of assistance with any of your seismic retrofit needs, please contact us to ask about a consultation.