Soft Story FAQ

MANDATORY SEISMIC RETROFIT PROGRAM 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

General 

1. What is the Mandatory Seismic Retrofit Program? 

This legislation requires the retrofit of all older and larger, multi-family, wood frame, residential buildings that contain a soft story condition. These buildings house over 115,000 San Francisco residents and are susceptible to strong damage in an earthquake because of a weakness found in the buildings lower story. This program seeks to strengthen those buildings and our city.

2. What is a soft-story wood-frame building? 

A soft or weak story floor, wood-frame building is a structure where the first story is substantially weaker and more flexible than the stories above due to lack of walls or frames at the first floor. Typically, these buildings contain large open areas for parking or commercial space such as restaurants or convenience stores on the first floor leaving the building highly vulnerable to damage in an earthquake. 

3. What buildings are typically a part of this program?

  • Type V (wood-frame) building as defined in the San Francisco Building Code, 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, as determined by a licensed design professional during the screening process of this ordinance that has not been seismically strengthened to the standards set forth in the ordinance.

4. What is the definition of a story above the grade?

Any story having its finished floor surface entirely above grade plane, or in which the finished surface of the floor next above is: 

1. More than 6 feet above grade plane; or 
2. More than 12 feet above the finished ground level at any point.

5. What are the benefits of performing a seismic upgrade? 

Performing a seismic upgrade of a soft story building will reduce the risk of collapse during an earthquake. This will prevent more people and businesses from being displaced.

6. Where can I park during a retrofit?

To ease the burden of parking disruption Earthquake Safety Implementation Program (ESIP) worked directly with the San Francisco Rent Board to develop a piece of legislation that clarifies the process of compensating the tenant for the loss of parking for both building owner and tenant alike. Overall, this legislation stipulates that in the case where parking has a specified value in the lease, that the tenant is due that amount in compensation for their lost parking. In the case where parking has not been assigned a leased amount, the tenant will be due replacement value for the parking not to exceed 15% of the tenant's monthly base rent. For more information,click here.

7. Where can I find additional detail information? 

Additional questions will be answered by calling the DBI Soft Story Program at 415-558-6699 or email to softstory@sfgov.org.

Compliance Process: 

8. How do I start a seismic retrofit?

As a property owner, hire/contact a licensed civil or structural engineer, or architect who specializes in seismic strengthening of buildings to develop a retrofitting plan.

As an engineer, the criteria used for seismic evaluation and/or retrofits of buildings within the scope of the ordinance are:

  • FEMA P-807
  • ASCE 41-13
  • ASCE 41-06
  • ASCE 31-03, for evaluation only
  • 2012 International Existing Building Code (IEBC) Appendix A-4, retrofit only
  • Any other rational design basis deemed acceptable by the Department that meets or exceeds the intent of the ordinance

9. What if I already completed the Voluntary Seismic Retrofit Program?

If you have completed a retrofit under AB-094 and the Voluntary Seismic Retrofit Program, you will need to provide documentation with the screening form completed to receive an exemption. You can visit window #8 at 1660 Mission Street or email forms to softstory@sfgov.org.

10. How much time do I have to apply for the permit? How long will I have to complete the retrofit?

Compliance with the retrofit requirements depend on the building tier it falls under. Please see tiers below:

Mandatory Soft Story Program Timeline

11. What if I get a second opinion from a different engineer claiming my building should be exempt from the program while the first engineer already submitted a screening form indicating my property will need seismic retrofitting?

A second screening form may be submitted with a different design professional to supersede the first form. Since the form will be stating the property should be exempt from the program, supporting information such as pictures, engineer’s statement, & plans will need to be submitted as well.

12. What do I do if the construction work is finished?

Call the Department of Building Inspection - Inspection Services at (415) 558-6570 to set up an appointment for the inspector to come out and finalize the job card. Building Inspector office hours are 7:30 AM to 8:30 AM and 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM.

13. How do I consider my building completely done with the Mandatory Seismic Retrofit Program?

You will need to request the issuance of the Certificate of Final Completion (CFC) once the job card is signed off after a Final Inspection by the building inspector. A copy of the CFC document will then need to be submitted to the Soft Story Counter Window #8 on the 1st Floor at 1660 Mission Street, or emailed to softstory@sfgov.org in order to complete your participation in the Mandatory Seismic Retrofit Program.

14. How many copies of calculations and drawings are required when I submit a permit application for seismic retrofit work?

To apply for a building permit, you’ll need to complete permit application form 3/8 and 2 sets of plans. The plans should include site plan, architectural plans, structural plans and details. One copy of structural calculation is required.

15. What happens if a building owner does not comply with the soft story retrofit ordinance?  
     
Enforcement and abatement action will be promptly taken by DBI if a property owner fails to comply with any of the requirements of this program. Once a Notice of Violation is issued and the case will be referred to the Code Enforcement Section for further administrative action. You may reach Code Enforcement Section at 415-5586116. Click here for more information on violations.

16. Will there be a website for public to confirm if a building owner is in compliance with the ordinance and, if so, how often will it be updated?

A list of buildings by street address and by block and lot number to which notice has been given regarding this mandatory seismic retrofit program is available on DBI website at www.sfdbi.org/softstoryIt will be updated every Wednesday.

Costs: 

17. How much will it cost to seismically strengthen my soft-story building? 

The cost will vary widely depending upon the level of the hazard and needed seismic upgrade work. Building owner will have to consult a licensed civil or structural engineer, or architect, who specializes in seismic strengthening of buildings to develop a retrofitting plan, and bids may be obtained from licensed contractors.

Through the Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety (CAPSS) analysis, it is believed that these retrofits will cost between $60,000 and $130,000, depending on the building size. Please visit our Soft Story Financing Page for more details about financing.

18. What is the cost of building permit application? Is it a fix fee or a percentage of construction costs?

Cost of permit is a percentage of construction costs per San Francisco Building Code Section 110A. 

19. I am an owner of a soft-story building, but can’t afford to retrofit my building. What are my options?

The City is offering a public financing option through AllianceNRG/Deutche Bank for property owners wishing to finance both mandatory and voluntary seismic retrofits. Click here for finance option information.

Tenants: 

20. Will tenants have to move out during retrofit?

If asked to move out, tenants should contact the Rent Control Board at (415) 252-4602 for more information. Click here for more tenant information.

21. Can rent be raised to cover the costs of the required retrofit?

All work within the scope of this ordinance, as certified per San Francisco Rent Board procedures governing “Seismic Work Required by Law”, will be subject to related pass-through regulation and allowances. This work may be passed along 100%. Although, if tenants are facing hardship, they may apply for the hardship appeal process for pass-through. For further questions, please contact Rent Control Board at 415-2524602. Click here for more tenant information.

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