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San Francisco “Soft Story” Retrofit Advisory – Some Details

I get a few questions from time to time about Earthquake retrofitting, liquefaction zones, when is the next quake going to be, and so on and so forth. The answer to all of those questions is the same, “I don’t have the answers, but there are other people who can help, and I’m happy to connect you.” In fact, I did a post a while back and it’s still the most visited post on this site, ever (actually, Sexiest Realtor Contest still holds that title), so if you’re on the hunt for more earthquake info, have a look: San Francisco Neighborhoods prone to Liquefaction and Earthquake Induced Landslides

San Francisco has introduced new law called the Mandatory Soft Story Retrofit Ordinance or Mandatory Wood Frame Retrofit Program, directly affecting wood-frame structures, containing five or more residential units, having two or more stories over a “soft” or “weak” story, and permitted for construction prior to January 1, 1978. In case you missed that:

  • Wood frame construction (Type V), and
  • Application of permit for original construction was prior to January 1, 1978, and
  • Five or more residential units, and
  • Two or more stories over a basement or underfloor area that has any portion extending above grade, and
  • A soft story condition that has not been seismically strengthened to the standards set forth in the ordinance.
  • So where can you get a list and find out if you, or the building you’re looking to buy is on it? According to the City and County of San Francisco website

    There is currently NO, and has never been an official list of “unsafe” properties. Until a licensed design professional has done a building assessment, there is no such information on any specific building.

    However, there is a list, the “City believes, to the best of our knowledge, to be within the scope of the Mandatory Seismic Retrofit Ordinance.”, and that list can be found here www.sfdbi.org/softstory, or more specifically on this updated spreadsheet of addresses located here: Soft Story Noticing Pool
    and there is this map to help you ballpark your building:
    softstorymapimage
    Okay, so how does this apply to you, the buyer or seller of San Francisco real estate?

    Simply put, when you purchase a property that might fit this bill, or have a property you plan to sell (disclose, disclose, disclose) expect to receive the following notice as part of the San Francisco Association of Realtors cover your ass program, and keep in mind, there may be some serious expenses headed your way if your building falls under the above mentioned criteria:

    “This advisory applies to “Soft Story” buildings as defined below. “Soft Story” buildings have been determined by the City and County of San Francisco to pose a greater risk of collapse during a major earthquake. Accordingly, local law now requires the owners of such buildings to seismically strengthen them.

    A “Soft Story” building is defined under local law as any wood-frame structure that (a) was constructed or had a permit application for its construction submitted before 1978, (b) has 3 or more stories (or 2 stories over a basement or underfloor area that has any portion extending above grade) and 5 or more dwelling units (whether the dwelling unit is legally approved for residential use or not), including condominium buildings, and residential or tourist
    hotels (whether or not all guestrooms have kitchens), and (c) which has not had certain seismic strengthening work completed in compliance with applicable building codes. Generally, but not always, such buildings will also have first story perimeter walls with large openings for garage doors or windows, few interior partitions, and/or construction materials that have deteriorated over time.

    The seismic retrofit work necessary to comply with this law can result in substantial costs and become the responsibility of Buyer after close of escrow, including a share of the work for the entire building when the purchase is of a condominium unit or a TIC interest with right of exclusive occupancy to a unit in such a building. Real estate brokers and agents are not qualified to provide cost estimates, evaluate any prior seismic work for compliance with the law, or otherwise opine as to the law’s requirements, and they do not investigate public records, such as at the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection. Before removing any property inspection conditions, it is thus strongly recommended that Buyers of “Soft Story” buildings (or a condominium unit in such a building) engage a qualified construction professional to fully investigate the property, including without limitation the costs to complete any necessary retrofit work.

    Additional information on “Soft Story” buildings can be obtained from the San Francisco Director of Earthquake Safety at (415) 554-5404, by visiting City Hall, Room 362, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, San Francisco, CA 94102 or at the following web page: http://www.sfgsa.org/index.aspx?page=6048. The City has created a list of buildings that it “believes, to the best of our knowledge, to be within the scope of the Mandatory Seismic Retrofit Ordinance. These are not necessarily unsafe buildings, but rather buildings that need to be screened to ascertain if they are within this program or not.” That list can be found at: http://sfdbi.org/mandatory-soft-story-program, scroll down to “Subject Buildings, Soft Story Noticing Pool (Excel).” The law can be found at: http://www.sfgsa.org/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=10118.”

    That’s a lot of the same information I shared above, but now you know what to expect, and now you know where to begin what could be an exhausting search and fact-finding mission about all things San Francisco, especially earthquake retrofitting, soft stories, liquefaction zones, etc.

    Happy browsing. As always, I’m here to help.

    -San Francisco Neighborhoods prone to Liquefaction and Earthquake Induced Landslides [theFrontSteps]

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