Los Angeles Soft-Story Retrofit Program Explained

In 2015, Los Angeles Seismic Retrofit Ordinance was implemented by the city council, bringing the issue of seismic building safety to the public eye. Ordinance 183893 and 184081 define the buildings at risk, the steps necessary to reinforce them, and a timeline for project completion. The main goal of the program is to address the issue of structural deficiencies in buildings that have tuck-under rooms, such as parking spaces or garages, without proper structural support. These deficiencies pose a serious risk in the case of a natural disaster, as the city has witnessed in the past. 


Life Hazard of Soft-Story Buildings 

The full extent of structural risks in such buildings was revealed during the Northridge Earthquake, which struck the neighborhood of Reseda on January 17, 1994. The earthquake was recorded as 6.7 Richter magnitude, classifying it as strong on the scale, and caused widespread structural damage and loss of life. Many soft-story buildings in the Reseda neighborhood collapsed, notably the Northridge Meadows apartment complex, where sixteen residents tragically lost their lives. 

After the earthquake catastrophe, it was clear that soft-story buildings had a greatly larger rate of structural failure compared to others, even those right next to them. 


Definitions of Soft-Story Buildings and Lateral Force

The clear indicator of a soft-story building is the lack of structural support on the first several stories, leaving them susceptible to lateral collapse. Inadequate structural support consists of wood-frame construction, lack of reinforcement, and especially ground floor openings such as garage doors or expansive windows. Such structural design commonly isn’t able to withstand lateral forces – those that influence a building side to side. 

Lateral force can be observed in cases of natural disaster, such as when the building shakes during earthquakes, or in exceptional cases, from the force of strong storm winds. If the first floor experiences structural failure due to lateral forces, the upper floors usually freefall directly on top of it with crushing effect. 


Los Angeles Seismic Ordinance 183893 and 184081 Explained

The ordinance identifies soft-story building characteristics that constitute a safety and life hazard, and aims to help owners properly address these issues inside the retrofit program, keeping in mind that these mandatory solutions should be affordable and easy to implement.

The Program of Soft-story Retrofit Applies to:

  • Buildings of wood-frame, permitted or constructed before January 1, 1978
  • Buildings where the ground floor contains an open space, such as a parking area
  • Buildings with four or more dwelling units

The program also defines a
priority plan, detailing the order of importance in addressing buildings with structural deficiencies. In the order of top importance, they are the following:

  • Priority I   – Buildings with 16 or more dwelling units
  • Priority II  – Buildings with less than 16 dwellings units, but three or more stories
  • Priority III – Buildings which do not fall into Priority I or Priority II

Soft-Story Retrofit Action Plan According to Ordinance 184081

To comply with the retrofit program, the building owner is required to submit the building to professional structural analysis. If the analysis concludes that there are deficiencies, it’s necessary to find and propose alterations that meet the program requirements. If these alterations are feasible, the building will be issued a permit for rehabilitation. In circumstances where alterations or improvement is not feasible, the building will be planned for demolition

The program outlines a period of three and a half years, after serving the order of compliance, for owners to obtain all necessary permits for rehabilitation or demolition. 

Within seven years after serving the compliance order, complete construction or demolition must be completed. 

At this point, the building will have fully complied to the ordinance, and became much safer for work and living. 


Need Help With Soft-Story Retrofitting? 

According to the Soft-Story Compliance Report, as of January 11th 2021, there are still around 13,000 soft-story buildings in Los Angeles. It’s necessary to take steps and prepare them for compliance. Unfortunately, in many cases, building owners face many roadblocks in the compliance plan, starting from identifying if the ordinance applies to their building, to finding the right company to help them with planning, permitting, and executing the construction

Every building is a case for itself, and deserves maximum professional care. If your building still hasn’t complied, we offer you our help. Our experts will work with you to find a solution that ensures compliance to the ordinance, and brings maximum value for its budget

Yakov Build can handle the entire process of analysis, planning, permitting, and construction. Get in touch with Yakov Build via the contact form or call us directly, and let’s discuss how we can make your building stronger, safer, and prolong its longevity. 

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