Retrofit blog


Soft-Story Retrofit | Does My Building Need a Retrofit?


Seismic activity in Los Angeles is nothing new, Southern California has been expecting “The Big One” for years. It’s something that Californians have to deal with, but in 2015 the City of Los Angeles passed Ordinance 183893 and Ordinance 184081 to establish mandatory standards for soft-story buildings that are considered at risk of structural failure during an earthquake.

The purpose of these ordinances is to promote public safety and reduce structural deficiencies caused by earthquakes in the most economical and feasible methods The City of Los Angeles Department of Building Safety, (LADBS), spent over two years compiling a list of soft-story buildings that will need some type of seismic retrofit. The Los Angeles Soft Story Retrofit Program outlines all requirements for a building to comply by 2022. The map below, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times, illustrates the number of soft-story buildings that meet the criteria for required seismic retrofit. It also shows a high concentration of soft-story buildings in Hollywood, West Los Angeles, and the San Fernando Valley. These densely populated areas are known for having large apartment buildings with tuck-in parking, a distinct feature of soft-story buildings.


What is a Soft-Story?


(Typical Los Angeles apartment with "tuck-under" parking)

You may not be familiar with what a soft story building actually is, but they are easily identifiable. A soft story building is any multi-story building (apartment building) in which one or more floors have windows, wide doors, large unobstructed commercial spaces, or other openings in places where a shear wall would normally be required for stability as a matter of earthquake engineering. These (SWOF) openings are usually reserved for tuck-in parking. A typical soft story building is an apartment building of three or more stories located over a ground-level that has large openings, like tuck-in parking garages, or any other large openings.

The first floor is considered weak because it is missing adequate shear walls. The small beams surrounding the open parking area are not strong enough to support the entire structure during violent shaking. Several hundred soft-story apartment buildings collapsed during the 1989 Loma Prieta and 1994 Northridge earthquakes for this same reason. The first floor of these soft story buildings could not withstand the shaking of the Northridge Earthquake and collapsed over the parking garage, while the upper stories remained entirely intact.

Soft Story Retrofit | FAQ

Our video helps answer the most commonly asked questions about Soft-Story Retrofits

  • If the property has "tuck-in" parking.

  • If the property has "tuck-in" parking and has two or three stories.

  • If the property has "tuck-in" parking, has two or three stories, and has more than three units.

If your propety does not have any of the above carachteristics, you will not need to comply with the new retrofit ordinances. But here is where things get tricky, the ordinance only applies to wood-frame structures, so if your property is made of Unreinforced Masonry (URM) or Non-Ductile Concrete your property is has to be retrofitted, but has a much longer time to comply.

13,500 Buildings

The Los Angeles Department of Building Safety spent two years gathering information on all soft story buildings within Los Angeles and unincorporated areas and identified 13,500 apartments that will need some type of seismic retrofit to comply with new seismic requirements. Apartment buildings are common in Los Angeles, Hollywood, West Los Angeles, and the San Fernando Valley. Thousands of soft-story apartment buildings were built in these areas after World War II when the population in Los Angeles grew rapidly. But the design and age of soft-story apartment buildings make them vulnerable to earthquakes.


Soft story apartment buildings built anywhere between 1950 and 1980 do not comply with modern seismic code and require seismic retrofit to withstand shaking from earthquakes. This is especially true for buildings that are built near and along fault lines. The California Geological survey recently identified new faults that impact West Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Any apartment building built before 1980 will likely be part of the 13,500 soft story buildings identified by the Los Angeles Department of Building Safety. This is especially true for an apartment building located in West Los Angeles or the San Fernando Valley because these apartments are older, and may have been built over fault lines. If you want to know if your building will be required to comply with the soft-story retrofit program, you can call our office and we will confirm if your address is on the list.

Seismic Retrofit Process

The seismic retrofit process is not difficult, but it is lengthy and loud. The first step is to get new architectural and engineering plans approved by LADBS to comply with new seismic code. Once the plans have been approved by the city construction can begin. You will need to give your tenants notice because they will be impacted by the construction. Once construction begins, trenches are dug so that new steel beams can be installed. Typically, steel beams are installed to replace wooden beams and strengthen the soft story. Depending on the size and layout of your building, tenants may need to leave their apartments for a few days. Bay Cities Construction Retrofit Pros can help you with your soft-story retrofit. We are a California Licensed Contractor and our team of engineers and designers are ready to work for you. We are committed to making the soft story retrofit process as quick and painless as possible. If time is of the essence and you want to complete the soft story retrofit quickly, we can help.

Don’t wait for the Big One to damage your building. You can get the soft story retrofit process started today. Deadlines for the Los Angeles Soft Story Retrofit are quickly approaching, don’t get fined for not being in compliance.


(it takes more than 30 days for your plans to be assigned)

Typical construction companies will refer you to an architect to get drawings, and that can take months. Our team will draft your preliminary set of drawings within 4 weeks. You will not find this expedited service anywhere else. Our team of engineers and designers will make sure your drawings are up to code so construction can begin as quickly as possible. Our team will also represent you with Building & Safety at the city of Los Angeles and the city of Santa Monica whenever necessary. Once the drawings are approved, we will provide you with a detailed written quote that covers all labor and materials for your soft story retrofit construction.

Want to Learn More?

If you want to learn everything there is to know about soft-story retrofits you'll want to check out our most in-depth article What is a Soft-Story Retrofit? Everything You Need to Know About Retrofits on our new website. There, you'll be able to access all of our retrofit blog articles, case studies, our retrofit gallery, short videos, and enjoy free access to our full-length soft-story webinars. Our team has developed all this content for property owners like you. It is your destination to learn all about the retrofit process. Bay Cities Construction and Soft-Story Retrofit Pros is here to help answer any questions you may have about your retrofit project. Our team has the experience to Engineer & Build a Cost-Effective Retrofit Solution for your property. Get started today by visiting our website at to schedule a free assessment.

About Us

For over 15 years Soft-Story Retrofit Pros has helped hundreds of homeowners with their projects. When you hireRetrofit Pros you don’t just hire a contractor, you hire an entire team of Pros. With several years of experience, our team has the expertise to help you Design, Engineer, and Build Your Retrofit Solution. We also represent you City Representation when submitting your plans and ensuring they are approved, and we handle all the Permit Processing so you never miss a day of work. If you think Retrofit Pros is the right team for you, contact us today. We have the experience, knowledge, and know how to help you save time & money on your seismic retrofit.

Ready to take the next step? We’re certain that Soft-Story Retrofit Pros is the best general contractor for your project, you can Schedule an Appointment by clicking HERE. We offer a complimentary One-hour consultation & assessment, so you can meet our team and we can discuss your Soft Story Retrofit project. If you have been disappointed by other contractors, it's time to call one of the best seismic retrofitters in Los Angeles.