Posts Tagged ‘Seismic Retrofit’

L.A. Soft Story Ordinance and Implications for Condominium/Apartment Owners

Written by Apartment Management Magazine on . Posted in Blog

By: Dilip Khatri, PhD, SE | Principal Khatri International Inc.

earthquake property

Los Angeles is on the “Ring of Fire”.  The Ring of Fire circles the perimeter of the Pacific Ocean refers to areas of the high seismic activity because of multiple tectonic plates that have been moving/grinding against each other for millions of years.  It’s no surprise that we are in the center of seismic activity with total unpredictability.  The Earthquake risk element affects every aspect of life in Southern California, most notably our buildings where we live, work, and entertain, because it poses a threat to our very existence.

The Soft Story Ordinance, passed by the City of Los Angeles in 2016, encompasses residential and commercial buildings (4 or more units) that have a weak story line which leads to potential catastrophic circumstances:  The entire upper level may collapse on the weak first story.  In order to minimize this structural calamity, the Soft Story Ordinance requires building owners to upgrade/fix/enhance their buildings to reduce this risk.


Figure 1

Figure 1 demonstrates this principle and shows the collapse mechanism.  It’s no different from having a heavy object on “stilts”.  A lateral force applied to the upper floors will cause the structure to tip over.  The objective of the Ordinance is not to save the building/property.  Rather, the prime and single goal is to save the People inside the building.  Many property owners don’t realize this objective, and its important to be clear that the Ordinance is not trying to save property values, it’s main object is Life Safety.

The L.A. Ordinance officially affects approximately 14,000 buildings but that number is changing because new buildings are being added to the list, and other Cities in Los Angeles County are decidedly passing similar Ordinances.


Figure 2

There are several engineering options available to resolve this dangerous condition.  At least five repair options are to be considered:

  • New Steel Moment Frames
  • Strengthening existing Steel Moment Frames
  • Strengthening existing Wood Shear Walls
  • New Wood Shear Walls
  • New Steel Flagpole Columns

Figures 2 and 3 show a few schematics of a Steel Moment Frame and Wood Shear Wall.
My advice to owners is to look at each of these options and evaluate the “best choice” from an economic feasibility standpoint.


Figure 3

Each property is unique and requires personal attention of a structural engineer and contractor. It’s definitely not a “one size fits all” scenario.  Look around, shop around, and do some diligence before you commit to a specific solution/vendor approach.  The time lines for compliance are 7 Years from the date of notice, 2 Years for plans and permits.  If you are interested to learn more about the Soft Story Ordinance, this author has produced an online video for your reference:

Dr. Khatri has 31 years of civil engineering experience involving land development, subdivision, commercial, residential, multi-family, industrial, and educational facilities. Design, construction, and overall management of major infrastructure improvements comprising sewer, water, storm drain, flood control, and grading design.

New Earthquake Retrofit Standards Proposed for Santa Monica

Written by Apartment Management Magazine on . Posted in Blog


The Building and Safety Department of Santa Monica has made recommendations to Update the Technical Standards of the City’s Seismic (Earthquake) Retrofit Provisions of the Municipal Code. The recommendations were presented to and approved by the Building and Fire Life Safety Commission and have been forwarded to the City Council. The Council has agendized this item for discussion on December 6, 2016. Sources in the City estimate that a formal ordinance will go to the Council in February, 2017. Happy New Year?

In the months prior to developing the new standards City Staff drove by and looked at all multi-family residential and commercial buildings in town and reviewed building records in order to compile an inventory of Potentially Seismically Vulnerable structures. In so doing they identified 2,813 Vulnerable Buildings. Of this total, 582 were considered retrofitted and will not require further work while 2,231 properties are either not retrofitted or will require further analysis. The inventory list is in draft form pending verification against building records. It is expected that the list will be eventually available on line for owners and others to consult.

The recommended standards for 2-story buildings are the same as the City of Los Angeles 2015 standards. However, 2-story buildings with a moment frame and a final permit will be deemed already complete. 3 and 4- Story, Soft Story Buildings with previous approved retrofit work will have to analyze the entire story above the weak story for lateral load behavior.

The recommendations do not deal with the question of the possible pass-thru of costs to tenants as this is a matter to be determined by the Rent Control Board following passage of the ordinance.

The new updated law will contain administrative provisions for compliance and verification of retrofit projects.
There will be time limits to complete requirements. The final time limits are in discussion. The general milestones for time limit compliance are propose to be:

  • Notification by the City of Santa Monica to the building owner;
  • City of Santa Monica to record notice with the County of Los Angeles Registrar/Recorder
  • Submission of a structural analysis of the building reporting either compliance or recommendation for retrofit;
  • Provide the City with confirmation that the “Tenant and Occupant Advisory” notice to the tenants has been provided to each tenant;
  • Application for a building permit and submission of retrofit plans;
  • Obtain a building permit;
  • Start of construction;
  • First building inspection;
  • Final building inspection and approval;
  • Release of recorded notice

Any notification to a building owner of a Potentially Seismically Vulnerable Building is appealable within 60 days from the date of the notice. Appeals will be heard by the Building and Fire Life Safety Commission. Appeals must be of a technical nature and cannot be related to financial hardship or non-technical matters.

It is expected that a City webpage will be available for more information.

Get your checkbook ready!