-Appeared on Apartment Association Greater Los Angeles  (AAGLA).

Chances are you felt at least one of the many earthquakes that rattled Southern California last month.

The initial 6.4-magnitude quake near the desert community of Ridgecrest was just a precursor to a larger 7.1-magnitude giant, with many other quakes to follow in the days succeeding these temblors.

It can be a little frightening, feeling the ground shift and sway under our feet. Rocking like a boat on stormy seas, we typically ask ourselves, “How much longer is this going to last; will it get bigger?” The truth in this response is that —in the back of our minds — we all know The Big One is lurking underground, ready to strike at any moment. When it does, we know, it could have devastating impacts on our financial security, injure us, or even worse.

So why don’t we do more to protect ourselves against the inevitable?

Many soft-story apartment owners put off their retrofits out of dread that they may experience issues with tenants, encounter problems with construction, or lose valuable parking spaces when time isn’t taken to develop an engineering design that minimizes impact on everyone, including the structure itself.

Here are some helpful tips to alleviate these concerns, enabling you to get the most out of your retrofit.

Preserve parking spaces

Many soft-story apartment owners worry that a seismic retrofit will mean the loss of parking spaces — both during and after construction.

This can happen if the design of the project is such that the steel moment frame or frames installed will take up space that was otherwise dedicated to parking. These frames are necessary to absorb seismic ground motion and prevent swaying, but they can be placed in a manner that minimizes any impact on parking.

Generally speaking, with a little ingenuity and careful design, the vast majority of these spaces can be saved. Your engineering study, when done right, will identify the most effective and economical option specific to your property. This also avoids permitting delays and/or the need for costly revisions in the future.

Parking can also be preserved during construction, by simply covering trenches at the end of each day so that tenants can drive over them and park in their usual spots at during non-work hours.

Minimize construction impacts

A lot can go wrong when proper steps aren’t taken to ensure a clean and safe work site.

In retrofit construction — particularly for wood-framed, soft-story structures — unprotected trenches can present a safety hazard to construction workers and residents alike. A messy work area can also pose problems: impacting quality of life for tenants and presenting hazards as well.

Caution tape is not an adequate defense against mishaps and/or curious onlookers.

It’s important that the work area be kept tidy and all trenches covered at the end of the construction day. Keeping it orderly is the first step in protecting the safety of both workers and tenants. It also enhances workplace efficiency, adding to your chances of getting your project done on time, and on budget.

Hire a specialist

The passage of L.A.’s seismic retrofit law has resulted in a burst of startup companies and general contractors advertising themselves as retrofit experts.

This is important because general liability for contractors is based on a specific trade classification. Be sure that the company you hire is insured specifically for seismic retrofit work. If not, insurance companies may try to reject claims and liability could be passed on to you.
Also make sure your contractor has done at least five projects in the past year and verify the work by contacting the building owner or manager and doing an inspection of the site. Inspect the placement of structural elements and the impact of the retrofit on the use of the building. Did they lose a parking space in the process?

Some companies may present you with a certificate of worker’s compensation, but it’s important to check their status with the California Contractors State Licensing Board. Go to www.cslb.ca.gov, click on “check a contractor license,” search for the business name, click on the appropriate license number, then scroll down to the section dealing with workers’ compensation. Click on “workers’ compensation history.”
If the posting states “exempt” click on the word for an explanation. Typically, this means that the company owner lists himself as the sole employee, and that no workers are insured under worker’s compensation.
Without workers’ compensation, apartment owners may also find themselves on the hook for:

  • Liabilities associated with death or injuries of subcontractors or workers hired under the table.
  • Financial liens filed against your property in the event that the general contractor does not pay his subcontractors or laborers.

Finally, as a part of your written contract, make sure you are named as additionally insured and have your insurance agent and/or legal representative review the additional insured endorsement before signing the contract.