L.A.’s new law requiring the retrofit of pre-1978 wood-frame soft-story buildings and non-ductile concrete buildings is gaining momentum.
Many fellow AAGLA members have already taken action, knowing that they will soon receive their orders to submit plans for either a retrofit or demolition of their property, or proof that their building does not need retrofitting.
Optimum Seismic has been working with the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles to inform members about the new ordinance and to educate them on the steps they need to take to comply with the law. We have been attending community workshops coordinated through AAGLA, spoke recently at the association’s annual Expo, and attended Mayor Eric Garcetti’s 2016 Seismic Retrofit Fair at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Everyone is encouraged by the rate at which building owners are already starting to make their structures and tenants safer from earthquakes.
Naturally, every property owner has questions specific to his or her property. We understand that these buildings represent a tremendous investment by the owners in both time and resources. It’s always wise to seek out one-on-one consultations to get the personalized attention you need when making a decision on what to do with your property. In the meantime – for the sake of planning for that next step – here are some of the most common questions asked by apartment owners like you, during the workshops and presentations we’ve attended.
Q: I haven’t received an order. How do I know if I’m required to retrofit my building?
A: The law applies to buildings that are at least two stories in height, built under building codes dating back to 1978 or earlier, and contain parking or other open space on the ground floor, with dwelling or office space above. The Building Department has published a list of all soft-story buildings and has an online search tool or mobile app (LADBS Go App) where you can confirm whether or not your building is a suspect soft story. Visit https://www.ladbsservices2.lacity.org/OnlineServices/?service=plr
Q: Are there any exceptions?
A: Residential buildings with three units or less are exempt from the law.
Q: How much time do I have to get my retrofit done?
A: Building owners have two years from the receipt of their Order to Comply to submit proof of a previous retrofit, or to present plans for a retrofit or demolition. A permit for construction or demolition must be obtained within three and a half years, and construction must be completed within seven years of having received the order.
Q: When can I expect to receive my Order to Comply?
A: The orders will be sent out on a rolling basis. Owners of the largest structures, buildings with three or more stories and 16 or more units will start receiving their orders early in May. Those whose buildings have 16 units or more but no more than two stories will receive their notices sometime in July. Owners of buildings with three or more stories but less than 16 units will receive the next round of notices sometime in October, and owners of all remaining buildings will begin receiving notices some time in 2017.
Q: What happens to my tenants during the construction phase of my retrofit?
A: The City of Los Angeles now requires the approval of a Tenant Habitability Plan prior to the start of construction. This process, designed to protect residents from disruption or harm, can add a couple of months to the process. The Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department will assist building owners in preparing the document, which describes the scope of work and what the owner, contractor and workers will do to minimize the impact of construction on the building’s tenants.
Q: Can my tenants stay in their units during the construction process, or do they need to be relocated?
A: It is very rare to find a project that will require relocation. In almost all of the work Optimum Seismic has done, we have been able to limit disruptions to regular business hours, leaving the property clean, livable and safe during the times when most tenants would be at home. The City of Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department says tenants can remain in their home as long as the construction work does not make the home uninhabitable outside of construction hours and will not expose tenants at any time to toxic or hazardous materials. Construction work usually occurs between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. It is imperative, for everyone’s health, safety and peace of mind, that the property be cleaned up and that work areas be protected after hours, when residents will be returning home from work. We always ensure that trenches get covered, walkways are cleaned and all equipment is safely put away at the end of each day.
Q: What kind of financing is available for retrofits, and can I pass along the costs to my tenants?
A: There are many different types of financing available. Many owners, because of today’s low interest rates, will refinance their properties and take cash out for the improvements. Others prefer commercial loans, pay with cash on hand or use a combination of all of the above. PACE financing is now also available for qualified properties. PACE financing (Property Assessed Clean Energy) allows building owners to borrow money for energy efficiency, renewable energy, water conservation and/or seismic retrofits, and spread the cost of the upgrade over time as a special assessment on the property tax bill. Earlier this year, the Los Angeles City Council voted that renters and apartment owners must take on an equal share of the costs of seismic retrofitting. Owners can pass half of the costs of retrofit construction to their tenants through capital improvement rent increases of up to $38 per unit per month.
Q: What kind of work will my building require?
A: This is one of the most common questions we receive at the events we attend. Unfortunately, it is not one we can answer without an inspection of your property. Our seasoned team of engineers, steel fabricators and construction crews can usually develop a retrofit plan that does not require any shoring of the building. This approach saves money, eliminates the need to relocate tenants and allows for a personalized design-build process that can be customized with architectural enhancements that add beauty and style to a property.
Optimum Seismic is AAGLA’s Preferred Supplier for seismic retrofits, and as a benefit to our fellow AAGLA members, we are offering $2,000 off the cost of engineering in 2016.
There are an estimated 15,000 buildings in Los Angeles that are impacted by the new law. The Structural Engineers Association of California estimates that there may be as many as 100,000 buildings in Southern California facing similar mandates as other cities and counties consider adopting retrofit laws of their own.
We encourage everyone to take action soon, before the overwhelming demand results in inflated prices, delays and fly-by-night startup companies taking on projects they don’t have the expertise to complete. Start looking into the process now and be selective about the company you choose to do the work.
There’s too much at stake to put this off too long.