Renewed concerns about potential earthquake damage to buildings in Los Angeles have led the city’s lawmakers to institute a new retrofit ordinance that will require building owners to make updates to their properties in the interest of safety. These updates could potentially prove very costly to owners, so it is important that owners learn everything they can about the current situation.
The new law was approved by the Los Angeles City Council on October 9th, with a unanimous vote of 12 to 0, and will require over 13,500 buildings within the city limits to be updated. The ordinance was inspired by a report ordered by LA mayor Eric Garcetti and completed by seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones with an aim to strengthen the city’s infrastructure against earthquakes. The report was completed last year and is titled “Resilience by Design”.
Two different types of buildings are affected:
- Wood framed multi-family buildings that contain parking structures on the ground floor level–commonly known as a “soft-story”. Affected buildings are those with four or more units constructed under original building permit applications prior to January 1, 1978 that contain an identified “soft-wall line”.
- Non-ductile concrete buildings constructed under original building permit applications prior to January 13th, 1977.
When you have to act:
Not all affected buildings will have to be retrofitted at the same time. The obligation to comply with the ordinance doesn’t come into effect until the owner of a building receives an order from the Department of Building and Safety (DBS) to comply.
The city will be prioritizing the orders to comply in the following order:
- Buildings containing 16 or more dwelling units
- Buildings with three stories or more, containing fewer than 16 dwelling units
- All other buildings
Once the owner of a wood-framed multi-story building receives an order to comply, the following timeline goes into effect:
- Within 1 year of receiving notice, the owner must submit either a third-party structural evaluation report that proves that the building complies with the minimum earthquake safety standards in the law, or plans for the proposed structural retrofits that would make the building compliant.
- Within 2 years of receiving notice, the owner must obtain all necessary permits for implementing the building retrofits.
- Within 7 years of receiving notice, the owner must complete the necessary construction work.
When the owner of a non-ductile concrete building receives an order to comply, he or she must follow the timeline below:
- Within 3 years of receiving notice, the owner must submit a completed checklist for DBS to review and determine if the building is in fact a non-ductile concrete structure.
- Within 10 years of receiving notice, the owner must submit a detailed third party building evaluation that clarifies whether the building already meets the requirements of the ordinance, or a detailed plans for implementing the updates required for compliance.
- Within 25 years of receiving notice, the owner must complete the necessary construction work.
If any of these deadlines are missed, DBS can charge building owners with misdemeanors for failure to comply, under Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 91.103. If an owner continues to refuse to comply, DBS can have the building vacated, and even demolish the building should it be judged to be hazardous.
In addition to these requirements, building owners will also have to notify all tenants in the building if they have been served with an order to comply.
Managing the Costs of Compliance
The cost of the renovations is estimated to be about $5,000 per unit by one source, though there will likely be great variance based on the specifics of each building. There is currently a proposal for the state government to provide a 30% tax break for the cost of the retrofits, but this would have to be approved by Governor Jerry Brown. For now, owners are on the hook for the cost of the renovations.
The City of San Francisco passed a similar ordinance in 2013, though the requirements of the Los Angeles ordinance are more strict.
Do you have questions or concerns about how you may be affected by the new ordinance? Contact RMC Realty Advisors today for a thorough evaluation of whether your building is likely to be affected and, if so, a plan to minimize the costs of compliance.