Soft Story Retrofitting

Is your building part of the soft story retrofit project in Los Angeles?

Long-time Los Angeles residents have been waiting for the “Big One” to strike any day. If you’re new to the area, the “Big One” is the next big earthquake to strike Southern California for years. City officials tried to find a way to minimize the damage and save lives in potential quakes after the damage caused by the earthquake in 1994. The 1994 earthquake took the lives of 60 people and destroyed city bridges, freeways and buildings in millions of dollars.

In 2016, many building and unit owners received a notice to comply. Such notifications went out to building owners who are listed as structures on soft stories. The first round of notices went out to building owners falling under the Priority and 1 or 2 under Order 183893. If there are less than five residential units in your house, your notice should have been sent out later.

You have two years to apply your retrofit plans to the city if you intend to upgrade your house. On the other hand, if you just demolish the house, you will apply the plans to the city within 3.5 years. The designs you submit, like those at Weinstein Construction, will need to be drawn up by a qualified soft-story retrofitting contractor.


Seismic earthquake activity invariably causes property owners to ask, “how safe is my building?” Such earthquakes have shown that certain types of buildings are vulnerable! For example, structures that are not bolted to their foundations can slide off the foundation during an earthquake, buildings that have unreinforced masonry can have such masonry crumble, and so-called “Soft Story” buildings are in danger of complete collapse!

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    Soft story buildings are typically multi-story structures that have one or more floors with large opening windows, wide doors, large unobstructed commercial spaces, or other openings in places where walls would normally be required for stability as a matter of earthquake engineering design. Many such soft story buildings have a soft first story that is less rigid than the floors above it, for example, an apartment “tuck-under” parking garage structure. 

    Such apartment buildings with flimsy first floors that serve as parking spaces became popular in the 1940s and 50s, as the City of Los Angeles spread West toward the Pacific Ocean and North into the San Fernando Valley.  In fact, recent stories in the Los Angeles Times show that many of the largest and most vulnerable apartment buildings are in the San Fernando Valley! (see LA Times, “Is my building vulnerable in a big earthquake? Here’s how to find out” by Shelby Grad, July 9, 2019).

    Sadly, such soft story structures are susceptible to damage during seismic activity, as was seen in many news story reports during the infamous 1994 Northridge earthquake, which caused many such soft story buildings to collapse, as well as the San Francisco earthquake of 1989.  

    Which steps to complete a soft story retrofit do I need to take?

    It can create a lot of uncertainty to grasp the steps involved. Start by finding an experienced retrofitting contractor in Los Angeles, like Weinstein Construction, to make it easier for you. Over 90 soft-story retrofits have already been completed by their skilled contractors in the Los Angeles area and they know exactly what it takes to code the home. A successful retrofit soft-story contractor will direct you through every step of the process and through most pressure. Here’s a step-by-step look at what’s involved in retrofitting a Los Angeles soft-story: Initial Consultation The best soft-story retrofit contractors can offer a free first consultation. One of their experienced contractors and structural engineers will go over everything with you at this first meeting. The builder inspects the building and produces a detailed plan of the necessary work. They will then contact you to schedule a follow-up meeting. They will go through the retrofit options at this meeting and provide you with a detailed report outlining all the work that needs to be done, a timetable to complete it, and a cost estimate.

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    The good news is that Weinstein Construction’s retrofitting experts specialize in soft story solutions and offer soft story structure retrofit reinforcement at a reasonable cost! Weinstein Construction’s soft story seismic retrofit can strengthen multifamily apartment complexes so that they are better prepared to deal with the next big seismic earthquake strike, helping to save lives, cars, and other valuable property.

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    Property owners typically receive a City LABDS order requiring retrofitting be done on their soft story building.  Such structures often have soft story parking solutions that require a seismic retrofit. Upon receipt of such an order, the property owner will have a limited amount of time to complete the soft story retrofitting work.  Soft story building retrofitting work is typically done in three phases:

    • Submitting a retrofit plan within 2 years
    • Obtaining a permit to begin construction or demolition within 3.5 years and
    • Completing the job within 7 years.


    • A building that was built under building code standards that were in place before January 1, 1978
    • A building that consists of two or more stories in a wood frame construction and
    • A building that contains ground floor parking or other open floor spaces.


    After a large number of wood-frame, soft story buildings in the greater Los Angeles area were severely damaged by earthquake seismic activity, a city-wide ordinance was passed into law in November 2015, obligating the owners of soft story construction buildings to retrofit them in strict accordance with city retrofitting codes.   

    The City of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (“labds”) has identified buildings* that are most vulnerable to seismic activity, thus requiring a seismic retrofit, as having the following criteria:

    • Consist of 2 or more stories of wood frame construction
    • Built under building code standards enacted before January 1, 1978 and
    • Contains ground floor parking or other similar open floor space.

    * Note that the LADBS Soft Story Retrofit Program does not apply to residential buildings with 3 or less units. Owners of larger residential units have orders to comply with the soft story ordinance.

    The purpose of the city’s mandatory retrofitting program was to reduce the potential risk of injury and loss of life and property that could result from seismic earthquake activity taking a toll on vulnerable soft story buildings.  Without strengthening and retrofitting the construction of such vulnerable buildings, structural failure can occur both during and/or after an earthquake. The LABDS’ seismic retrofit program is one of the nation’s largest movements to promote seismic soft story building safety!

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    Many Los Angeles property owners and tenants are aware of the soft-story retrofit ordinances in Los Angeles. If you don’t remember, in 2015, the city council approved two construction measures regarding soft-story buildings. The Los Angeles soft-story retrofitting system was revealed shortly after the new policies were approved. The idea behind this is to make sure that when the next earthquake hits, buildings across the city will be structurally sound. So what are the new laws covering and how are they applicable to you?

    The first order, 183893, specifies the type of buildings required under the Los Angeles soft-story retrofit system to complete a seismic upgrade. Built before 1978, this list includes wood-framed structures and soft-story buildings. Ordinance 184081 provides the deadline for building owners to complete their retrofit and comply with the compulsory system. The second order has two components depending on whether you intend to retrofit or completely demolish the house.

    City officials have compiled a list of all the buildings and structures that they consider as at risk. The city sent a letter to the owners of these buildings notifying them of the compulsory Los Angeles retrofit soft-story programmer. Such letters gave owners seven years in most cases to apply their plans and complete the necessary retrofits. You should have hired a soft-story retrofit contractor now if you got one of these documents. If you haven’t hired one, or don’t know if you need one, don’t worry, we’re here to answer all your questions and make it simple for you to understand the process.

    Weinstein Construction professionals can help with all your soft story retrofitting, from start to finish. Call us today so we can explain how we work on soft story retrofitting ! If you think that your apartment building may require soft story retrofit services, call us now for a free, no-obligation discussion of your needs!

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