All About San Francisco Soft Story Retrofits

  1. What’s going on?
    • All wood-frame buildings with five or more residential units over three or more stories are required to complete mandatory seismic retrofitting work.
  2. Why?
    • The goal is to make a majority of the residential units in SF more structurally sound so that most people will be able to shelter-in-place during the next big earthquake.
  3. How many buildings?
    • Approximately 8,500 buildings are subject 
  4. What are the steps?
    • DBI’s list was a good start but I found that a number of eligible buildings didn’t make it onto the list and a bunch of buildings that weren’t necessarily eligible were included. How do we handle these situations? 
      • Frequently the DBI records weren’t quite accurate about the number of units in a building 
      • Multiple building addresses for a single property
    • Engineers were responsible for completing a questionnaire after a visit to each building to determine whether the buildings were eligible after being included on the list. Some buildings were excluded at this point and required no further work.
    • Most buildings were confirmed as needing to comply and were then recommended for further examination by the engineer. Typically engineers draw plans to stiffen and strengthen the building and prevent it from collapsing in the next big quake. Engineers are probably going to cost between $5,000 and $25,000 to complete these plans. 
    • Engineers have different approaches to this. Some like to propose a wide-ranging scope knowing it will satisfy the requirements and then some. Others choose to propose as minimal a scope as possible and negotiate with planners about further work to be completed after the initial proposal.
    • Once the plans are completed the owner can take them to DBI to obtain the permit and make sure the plans are adequate.
    • Then the owner can get multiple contractors to bid on the project to make sure they’re getting “apples-to-apples” comparisons.
    • Completing the work can be very difficult and time-consuming. Some of those projects can take three to six months to complete. I’m finding that these projects cost between $50,000-150,000 to complete for our buildings which are between five and 30 units.
    • Displacement: commercial tenants - first floor commercial spaces frequently need to be displaced while the projects take place. Landlords with active leases need to compensate these tenants for this time and negotiate to complete the work.
    • Displacement: garages and storage on first floors - tenants can 
  5. Pass throughs - owners can pass 100% of the cost of this work to tenants over 20 years. Typical petitions only allow owners to 
    • Separate out non-mandatory work from mandatory work
J.J. Panzer