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Los Angeles Mayor Proposes Mandatory Earthquake Retrofitting for Commercial and Residential Buildings

Capping a year-long partnership between the City of Los Angeles and Dr. Lucy Jones, a well-known seismologist with the United States Geological Survey, Mayor Eric Garcetti released “Resilience by Design” last week, a plan that includes an ambitious set of proposed seismic regulations. The plan proposes a series of ordinances to be reviewed by the City Council in the coming months, requiring, among other things, mandatory seismic retrofitting of soft-first-story buildings within five years and non-ductile concrete buildings within thirty years. These buildings have been identified in the plan as the buildings most at risk of collapse or structural failure in a large earthquake. In the past, the inability to identify funding for large scale retrofitting has scuppered any efforts address the danger. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the proposal is short on details about assistance to building owners for the costs of retrofitting. Below is a brief summary of what you need to know.

1.  What buildings are subject to the ordinances?

Soft-First-Story: All existing commercial buildings and all existing residential buildings with 4 units or more that:  (a) are of wood frame construction; (b) are two or more stories in height; (c) were issued a Certificate of Occupancy before January 1, 1980; and (d) the ground floor portion of the wood frame structure contains parking or other similar open floor space.

Non-Ductile Concrete: All existing concrete buildings permitted before January 1, 1980 except detached single‑family dwellings.

2.  How will you know if your building is subject to one of the ordinances?

The Department of Building and Safety (DBS) will tell you. Both ordinances provide for service of an order by DBS informing building owners they are subject to the provisions of one of the ordinances.

3.  What do you do if your building is served an order?

There are different requirements for each type of building. For soft-first-story buildings, a structural analysis and plans for any required retrofitting or demolition are due within one year of being served an order. Permits for retrofitting or demolition must be pulled within two years and construction or demolition work must be completed within four years of being served an order.

For non-ductile concrete buildings, the building owner has five years to prepare an evaluation of the building and plans for any required structural alterations or demolition. Within thirty years of receipt of the order, retrofitting or demolition of the building must be complete.

4.  Can you appeal a determination that your building is within the scope of an ordinance?

Yes, both ordinances provide for an appeal to the Board of Building and Safety Commissioners. The appeal must be made within 60 days from service of the order and the Board must decide within 60 days of the appeal.

5.  What happens if you don’t comply?

Both ordinances give DBS the right to order the building vacated if an order is not complied with. If an owner is not in compliance within 90 days of the order to vacate, DBS may order the demolition of the building.

6.  What is next for Mayor Garcetti’s plan?

The ordinances have to be approved by the Los Angeles City Council. Prior to consideration by the City Council there will be time for public comment, much of which will revolve around potential financing assistance. Mayor Garcetti has suggested a business tax break for those who retrofit buildings, tax incentives for companies that move into recently retrofitted buildings and assistance connecting building owners with private lenders. Finally, it should be noted that once the ordinances are enacted, it will take the City time to identify buildings and notify building owners. 

Copyright © 2020, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP.


About this Author

Alfred Fraijo, real estate, land use, natural resources attorney, Sheppard

Alfred Fraijo is a partner in the Real Estate, Land Use and Natural Resources practice group in the firm's Los Angeles office.  He is a leader of the firm's Latin America Practice Group, a global initiative to provide specialized legal representation to Hispanic/Latino-owned companies and companies focused on the U.S. Latino market.

Areas of Practice

Mr. Fraijo grows his expertise on cutting edge real estate transactions for public, private and nonprofit developers and multi-national corporations in the United States and abroad.  He recently was featured in "...

Tetlo Emmen, real estate, land use, natural resources, attorney, Sheppard Mullin

Tetlo Emmen is an associate in the Real Estate, Land Use and Natural Resources and Environmental Practice Group in the firm's Los Angeles office. Mr. Emmen’s practice focuses on land use planning and general real estate matters. He assists developers and property owners in obtaining development entitlements, regulatory approvals and drafting transactional real estate documents. He also advises clients on compliance with local planning and zoning regulations, CEQA, the Subdivision Map Act and the Brown Act. Mr. Emmen has worked on a variety of residential, commercial, mixed-use and office projects throughout Los Angeles and California.