Here is a very simple definition of a soft story building for our purposes: any apartment building that is five units or more, three stories or more and constructed with a wood frame. There are lots of nuances involved as well, but those are the basics. If your building meets these conditions, it is considered a soft story and you will have to retrofit it.

The Department of Building Inspections was supposed to send notices to soft story building owners. However, I think there were a few glitches in that system. If you didn’t receive a notice, the DBI believes it is your responsibility to go onto their website and look at their list to see if your building is on it. If you think you might own a soft story building, we encourage you to go to that site and look it up.

When you find your building on that list, you have to do a couple of important things. The first step is to have your building surveyed by a design professional. This needs to be done by September 15, 2014. Once it’s complete, submit that survey form to the city. A design professional like an architect or an engineer will have to sign off on the survey form before you submit it. This part is not very expensive or time consuming. The engineer will briefly look at your building and decide if it falls under the soft story category and if so, what tier it falls into.

Step 2 is to have an engineer come up with a design plan for how to retrofit your building so it is seismically sound. That’s a bigger and more expensive process. If you do not have blueprints or plans for your building, the engineer may have to go into the garages and the basements and inspect the overlapping walls. The engineer will need a good idea of the building’s supporting structure.

Once the engineers look at your building, they will come up with a proposed retrofit design and you will put that out to bid so you can find a contractor to do the work. You’ll have more time as the process moves forward, depending on your tier level. Expect to get the work done between 2015 and 2018. You’ll need to submit drawings for a permit and then start the retrofitting process.

The important date to focus on right now is September 15, 2014. You have to have the first step completed by then. Here at Gordon Property Management, we have surveyed all our soft story buildings and we’re working on the next step with plans and engineers. We are able to get these things done quickly so our property owners are in compliance with the retrofit ordinance.

If you need any help getting your soft story building retrofitted, please contact us at Gordon Property Management, and we’d be happy to assist you.