About a year ago, I wrote an article on the mandatory earthquake retrofit in Los Angeles for “Soft Story” buildings. A soft story is a multi-story building in which one or more of the floors have windows, wide doors, large unobstructed commercial spaces or other openings in places where a shear wall would normally be required for stability as a matter of earthquake engineering design. For most apartment buildings, this takes the form of “tuck-under” parking, where the parking is tucked under living quarters. Last year, Los Angeles started to send out orders requiring buildings with soft stories to be retrofitted.
The cost of the retrofit is the owner’s responsibility, and as you can imagine is not insignificant. In fact, many owners facing hardship, or the possibility of their retirement income being impacted, chose to sell their building and invest in alternative real estate options such as single tenant NNN properties.
This year, we further saw other municipalities follow Los Angeles and enact mandatory retrofit standards, specifically Santa Monica. Of note, however, is that Santa Monica enacted the most stringent and extensive seismic retrofit standards in the nation, much more extensive than Los Angeles. These standards will require improvements/upgrades to as many as 2,000 buildings. This coupled with what is considered one of the strictest rent control laws in the country, may prove to disrupt the apartment and condo industry.
Property owners should start receiving notices now or soon, notifying them of this requirement. The notices will be mailed out over the course of this year, and the buildings that are included in the list are both commercial and multifamily residential buildings.
City officials estimated the cost to retrofit a wood frame residential building at about $5,000-$10,000 per unit, but we are seeing estimates for some buildings at twice this amount. Estimates for concrete and steel commercial buildings are estimated at $50-$100 per square foot.
Under the current schedule, about 200 brick buildings will need to be retrofitted within two years, and about 30 concrete tilt-up buildings (buildings with concrete walls that are poured in place, then “tilted up to form the walls) would have three years to retrofit. Wood apartments with soft stories will have up to six years to retrofit. To reduce the financial impact to our clients, we are notifying them that they should now be looking to get estimates for the cost, and start building a reserve account to complete these repairs.
For more detailed information on where your building stands, if retrofitting is required and what will be required of it, please visit the following sites: