Seismic Upgrade FAQs

What is a Seismic Retrofit?

Seismic retrofitting is the modification of existing structures to make them more resistant to seismic activity, ground motion, or soil failure due to earthquakes.

What is the Mandatory Soft Story Program?

The Mandatory Soft Story Retrofit program was created in 2013 as a multi-year community-based effort by the Department of Building to ensure the safety and resilience of San Francisco through the retrofit of all older, wood-framed, multi-family buildings in San Francisco with a soft-story condition.

As part of the Soft Story Program, all affected property owners were noticed beginning in September 2013 and were required to have submitted their screening forms to the Department of Building Inspection by September 15, 2014. As of October 6, 2014 although we have achieved a 90% response to the program, there are approximately 500 properties who have yet to submit their screening forms.  Buildings that have not complied with this requirement will be placarded and issued notices of violation.

Click here to see a video presentation on The New Mandatory Soft Story Retrofit Program from SFGov TV.

What areas of San Francisco are vulnerable?

You can see those SEISMIC HAZARD ZONES identified by the State of California on the City and County of San Francisco Official Map.

Why do you need a Seismic Retrofit?

With better understanding of seismic demand on structures and with our recent experiences with large earthquakes near urban centers, the need of seismic retrofitting is well acknowledged. Prior to the introduction of modern seismic codes in the late 1960’s for developed countries many structures were designed without adequate detailing and reinforcement for seismic protection. In view of the imminent problem, various research work has been carried out. State-of-the-art technical guidelines for seismic assessment, retrofit and rehabilitation have been published around the world. These codes must be regularly updated; the 1994 Northridge Earthquake brought to light the brittleness of welded steel frames, for example.

What is a Soft Story Retrofit?

Soft-story buildings, so called for having first stories much less rigid than the stories above, are particularly susceptible to earthquake damage because of large, unreinforced openings on their ground floors and in their typically wood-frame construction. These openings often accommodate parking spaces, large windows and expansive lobbies in residential and retail buildings. Without proper design, such structures are much less able to withstand the lateral forces (forces that push a structure side to side) that earthquakes generate. Once the first floor folds, the upper floors pancake down on top of it, crushing anything underneath.

What are the options available to me for financing a Soft Story Retrofit?

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

  • Allows property owners to finance seismic improvements to comply with the Soft Story Mandatory Retrofit Program (MRP)
  • 100% financing of project costs up to 15% of property value with progress payments that can be used for upfront engineering and design
  • Repayment terms of up to 30 years
  • Competitive fixed rates
  • Approval based primarily upon property value, not the credit of the owner
  • Assessment may travel with the property upon sale
  • Based on City ordinance, 100% of financing cost can be passed along to tenants
  • Energy efficiency, water conservation, and renewable energy projects may be financed
  • Property owner keeps any applicable federal/state rebates and/or tax credits
  • Payments are made through the property’s tax bill
  • The city has worked with industry leaders to transform it’s initial program into a full-service financing option offering attractive rates as well as 30 year terms and upfront financing for design costs.
What questions should I ask the Contractor?
  • What is your Contractor’s License Number?
  • What are the work hours?
  • Will noisy equipment be employed and at what times of the day?
  • Where will workers park?
  • Will the contractor arrange for parking permits for the workers?
  • What is the staging area for the work and where will safety barricades be located?
  • From where will the contractor draw power and water and are costs for those utilities included in the bid?
  • Where will materials be stockpiled?
  • Will the work impact my tenants’ ability to park?
  • Will my tenants have to vacate their units?
  • Will the work be undertaken in one phase, or will the work be performed in multiple phases?

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