Seismic Retrofit of Soft Story Apartments

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In 1994/1995 my brother referred an earthquake repair apartment project to me from one of his property management clients in Sherman Oaks. As we got started the design team noted the need to strip the entire building down to its studs and then seismically upgrade the entire building and bring the building up to existing code. This was a major deal for our client. Project accomplished and all parties were very happy.

Fast forward to 2016 with the city of Los Angeles issuing the required upgrade of Soft Story parking upgrades for apartment buildings. The original structural engineering firm Reiss, Brown, Ekmekji, Inc. who ran the preliminary numbers, found the new loads to be unfortunately 170% higher than those used in 1994 (based on 75% of today’s code per the ordinance). The ironic part is if you built a new building in 1994 (same exact building) and used the same values we used in the 1994 retrofit, your building would not require upgrading since the ordinance only applies to buildings with permits for new construction before 01/01/1978. This is why even our structural engineer thought the City would grant an exception but based on the cities notice they need justification to satisfy the ordinance.

The design fees and permits alone could cost more than the estimated construction costs. The owner then needs to decide if the work is worth it or if they should just sell. Again, I believe the codes are written so the Mom and Pop owners of existing properties are being required to shell out the same degree of time, money, and energy as a large scale developer. This means the rent goes up assuming the owners have the resources to do all the required design and upgrades. There should be a level of expenses a private small building owner needs to spend. However the safety of each building is important. We want to limit personal injury during an earthquake. The level of safety being improved in this case shows the indifference to new verses existing retrofit situations. What are your thoughts?

We are now in the process of upgrading an LAUSD building for seismic upgrades using the rules issued by the DSA, the Department of the State Architect. This is one of the areas where our professional qualifications and experience working with different structural engineering firms works in your favor. After natural disasters like wild fires and earthquakes we have assisted and lead design teams to successful outcomes with governing jurisdictions and construction completion. Let us put a design team together for you! Jim Heimler is also a volunteer for the State of California on the Emergency Response Safety Assessment Program. He has been a volunteer of over 30 years.

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