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SF’s Mandatory Seismic Retrofit Program for Soft-Story Buildings

Below is a summary of what you need to know about the new ordinance in plain words.


If the following four requirements apply to your building, then it is a suspect for a soft story building.

1) Wood-frame building with either 3+ stories, OR 2 stories over a basement/underfloor area with any part above grade. The first story of any building counts as a story.

2) 5+ dwelling units.  A unit is any individual residential unit.  It includes a guestroom, w/ or w/o a kitchen, within either a tourist/residential hotel/motel.  Does not include “housekeeping room.” Includes an area that is used as a dwelling unit, whether it is is approved or unapproved for residential use.

3) Constructed/permit to construct applied for before January 1, 1978.

4)  Has not been previously seismically strengthened. Exceptions are listed at the bottom of this post.


If you think your building meets all four of these points, then the city should send you a notification in late fall or early winter of this year, as to whether your building is a suspected soft-story building, and will need further engineering evaluation and possible retrofitting. There is currently no official list of “unsafe” properties. All addresses subject to the ordinance will be posted on the Department of Building Inspection’s website and updated regularly.

The ordinance requires that if you believe your building meets the requirements, but do not receive notification, then you must notify the Department of the address/location, and they will review the building and provide subsequent notice. In plain terms, it says that even if you have not received a notice, you are not necessarily exempt from the requirements of the ordinance. If you do not receive a notice, but wish to make sure of the status of your building, you may choose to get in touch with an engineer/architect to evaluate your building, and decide at that point how to proceed.


Once you receive your notice, the below process should follow:

Step 1 – Complete a screening form within a year of notification

Retain an architect/engineer to submit to the Department a completed Screening Form. Buildings that are exempt because of previous voluntary retrofitting can submit the Screening Form without an architect/engineer. See the bottom of this post for what qualifies as applicable voluntary upgrades.

The Screening Form is used to determine whether a building is subject to this ordinance, or whether it is exempt.  The form should be included in your letter of notification from the Department. If a building is determined to be subject to this program, then it is assigned to one of four Compliance Tiers.  These tiers essentially determine how quickly you will need to finish your retrofitting work.


The following is a basic definition of the buildings that fall within each compliance tier. However, this list is not all-inclusive, and we cannot guarantee the classification of your building according to these descriptions.

Tier 1 – Buildings that house civic, social, religious, or recreational assemblies; restaurants, bars, etc.; educational buildings, schools, etc.; assisted living facilities, social rehabilitation facilities, retirement homes, and residential care facilities

Tier 2 – Buildings with 15+ dwelling units, unless your building is in Tiers 1 or 4.

Tier 3 – Buildings that don’t fall within the constraints of Tiers 1, 2, or 4; if your building doesn’t match any of the other tiers.

Tier 4 – Buildings with commercial businesses, offices, professional services, etc. on the first story or in a basement extending above grade. Also, if your building is in a mapped liquefaction zone, unless your building qualifies for Tier 1. The city should be coming out with a detailed map of liquefaction zones soon, but until then, you can click here for some more information.


All time period are measured in years from 90 days after the date of passing the ordinance. In other words, however many years starting July 18, 2013.

Step 2 – Obtain a building permit

According to your tier and timeline, submit an application for a building permit with documents indicating your proposed retrofit to the Department.  This permit should be separate from permits for other building alterations/repairs, unless it relates directly to the seismic work.

In order to submit an application for a permit, you will need to submit construction drawings with engineering analysis. To do this, you need to hire either a civil/structural engineer. If you would like an estimate for how much this may cost you, feel free to give us a call. Our number is at the top of the page, and the bottom of this post.

Step 3 – Retrofit!

Step 4 – Completed work

Once the seismic work has been completed, you will receive a Certificate of Final Completion and Occupancy. You will then have 15 years, during which your building will not be identified as a seismic hazard, unless it is significantly altered or damaged.


There are two exemption clauses.  If your building meets either of the two requirements below, then it is probably exempt from further retrofitting.

1)  A building that has been seismically strengthened to meet/exceed standards of Section 1604.11 of Code within 15 years prior to operative date or ordinance.  You still need to submit documentation to the Department showing that retrofit work was permitted, completed, and maintained.

2) If your building has completed voluntary seismic strengthening under Administrative Bulletin AB-094.  Then, fill out the Screening Form and Optional Evaluation Form.

The full text of the final signed ordinance can be found here:
Mandatory Seismic Retrofit Ordinance

For more information from the City of San Francisco on the Soft Story Program, click here.

As always, if you have any further questions about your building, soft-story retrofitting, or if you need an estimate for an evaluation report/retrofit design, give me a call at (510)272-9999 or e-mail me at info@test.enginious-structures.com.

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