Are you feeling rushed to meet seismic retrofit deadlines imposed to by Los Angeles Department of Building Services? The cut-off date for engineering studies of older wood-framed, soft-story structures has passed for more than 150 properties, with many others fast approaching.
Faced with these tight deadlines, many apartment owners may feel pushed to act hastily to get things done.
My advice is to take action — but wisely.
Seismic retrofits are an important investment in what for most apartment owners represents their life’s work. That’s why every precaution should be taken to do your due diligence — particularly amid the growing influx of startup companies hoping to capitalize on California’s growing seismic retrofit industry.
Here are three easy steps to ensure that not only are you selecting a reputable firm to do the work, but that the process followed is one that will bring you the optimum results for the safety of your tenants and protection of your building.
Step One: Do a Background Check
First and foremost, be sure that the engineer, architect or contractor you plan to hire is licensed. The State Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists maintains a database of the names of individuals with professional licenses with the state. Visit www.bpelsg.ca.gov for more information. If the name you’re searching for isn’t there, you can call 1-866-780-5370 to make sure the omission is not due to a clerical error.
The California Architects Board lists licensed architects at www.cab.ca.gov.
The California Contractors State License Board keeps a database of all licensed and insured contractors at www.cslb.ca.gov.
Step Two: Check Insurance Documentation
Worker’s compensation and professional and general liability insurance are needed to protect yourself and your property in the event that something goes wrong. Never assume a contractor has liability coverage and insist that you obtain a certificate of insurance to verify their coverage.
Some companies may present you with a certificate of worker’s compensation, but it’s important to check their status with the CCSLB. Go to www.sclb.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. That puts you – the building owner – at risk in the event of any jobsite accidents or injuries.
Without worker’s 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.
Remember that 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 of injury or death, and liability could be passed on to you.
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.
Step Three: Check References and Experience
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. Check out the finished work to see if it blends well with the original paint, stucco and other building elements. 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?
Be sure to follow up on how the firm deals with tenants during the construction process. Some questions to ask include:
- Whether tenants needed to be relocated, and why
- If tenants were able to use their usual parking spaces during non-business hours
- If the grounds were kept clean and hazards such as tools and construction material contained
These steps may add a little bit of time to the process, but they will pay off by helping to protect you, your property and your tenants should any type of problem arise.