What’s Trust got to do with it? A Soft-Story Story.

Written by Apartment Management Magazine on . Posted in Blog

By Dee Soffer

Trust is fragile gift. One that you must hold on to dearly and handle it with utmost care. We need trust in everything we do. It’s that component in life that when you have it, everything becomes possible.  It is the basis of healthy relationships; first cultivated with ourselves and then with everything that surrounds us.

In this short article I want to focus on contractual trust. Where one party promises to act a certain way, and in return the other party promises to respond in an agreeable manner. This is the preliminary stage of establishing the very critical step of building the foundation for trust worthy relationships. The stage where expectations are built, and deliverables become metrics for character and capacities judgment. Presumably, both sides take this step with their best of intentions to meet expectations.

Unfortunately, sometimes intentions and realities collide. Unknown and unexpected parameters enter and change the promises landscape causing a fracture of trust. I see it happen all the time with the new soft-story ordinance issued by Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) and adjacent cities who adopted the ordinance such as City of Santa Monica and City of West Hollywood.   

Without going too deep into the ordinance specifics, a soft-story property as portrayed in the current ordinance has distinct characteristics; it is a multi-level residential wood structure in which the first floor is most commonly used as a parking area with an opening that is greater than the sum of all openings on the floors above (such as windows, balconies, doors, etc. as depicted on the picture below). Sounds confusing? Well, there is more to it.

The ordinance calls for every soft-story property in LA, Santa Monica and West Hollywood to be retrofitted to comply with new building codes, and ultimately withstand a major earthquake.  

Assuming you intend to retrofit the building (and not demolish or withdraw it from the rental market), the first steps of compliance is to contract a structural engineer and submit a structural plan proposing a justifiable seismic solution. On that premise, one may think structural engineers have a unified view or parameters to work by and that the differences from one to another are not so spread out. Unfortunately, it is far from reality, at least in the soft-story compliance arena.

Due to the nature of this ordinance and the many forms and shapes of existing structures, there is no one size fits all solution. How you retrofit your building and how much should it cost you relies heavily on the design and parameters drawn by the structural engineer you choose, and even more so, on your ability to analyze, understand, and contest the proposed designs. Compliance may be promised and even guaranteed but methods and final cost remain a big puzzle. Most of the time, structural engineers possibly with the best of intentions may design and often over-design a plan without knowing field obstructions and construction cost. This can translate into thousands of dollars in implementation issues and construction costs.

So how can you, the soft-story property owner, trust and contract a compliance service provider?

My suggestion is that you must obtain second and third opinions, brain storm, research, and most importantly rely on experienced professionals who have complied with this specific ordinance. You may fall into the trap of being seduced with low prices and that is a whole subject I intend to write about soon. Bottom line, as with many other areas of our lives, engaging with trust-worthy professionals is the utmost critical component to an overall successful compliance.

Dee Soffer – CEO Bringing 20+ years of multi-family real estate Management experience from her company Optima Enterprises, Inc.  Performance optimization, crisis management, organization multi-site operations, leadership, strategic planning, and her unique vision for organizational structure and unity have laid the foundation for our teamwork methodology at Retro Experts.  Her background in non-profit work adds to our company’s philosophy in giving back to our communities.