Time Frames and Details of the New LA Soft Story Earthquake Apt Retrofit Law

The Los Angeles City Council passed the first reading of the new law requiring soft story apartments to be seismically upgraded. Soft stories are wood frame apartments, usually built between 1950 and 1978, and have open parking on the ground floor level. A structural engineer must determine if the building has a soft story. The LA Times estimated that the retrofit will cost approximately $5,000 per unit. The City Council is working on methods to help small landlords finance the retrofit but at this point, there is no such financing. The Governor just vetoed a bill that the California State Legislature passed providing a 30% tax credit for earthquake retrofit expenditures. Currently, a landlord may be permitted to raise a rent controlled tenant’s rent up to $75 per month (or 10% of the monthly rent, whichever is less) for capital improvements until they are paid. The increase is subject to review and approval by the City. It is not easily obtained. Further, tenant groups are pressuring to have the maximum rent increase limited to 50% of the retrofit cost with the maximum increase of $38 per month.

In about a month, the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety will begin issuing courtesy letters to the owners of 13,500 wood apartment buildings warning of an upcoming order from the city to do a seismic retrofit. City officials have spent the last year canvassing the city to compile a list of quake-vulnerable apartments.

The official order letters will be sent on a rolling basis, with building officials focusing on the largest apartment buildings first.

Landlords have one year from the notice to either have an engineer provide proof that the building is not a soft story or to have an engineer complete retrofit plans. The Landlord will have an additional year to obtain a building permit. All improvements must be completed seven years from receipt of the official order. The Landlord must inform all tenants that the building is a soft story after the building is so determined to be a soft story.

If the Landlord does not comply, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be subject to prosecution and/or administrative enforcement under the Los Angeles Municipal Code.

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