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City of Oakland Soft-Story Ordinance

After attending the City of Oakland’s presentation at the RHANAC Expo, as well as a presentation on seismic ordinances at the PCLC Apartment Market Symposium last Wednesday, I felt it would be beneficial to explain the City of Oakland’s Soft-Story Ordinance. The City has just begun sending out the first notifications, so I expect that this topic will only garner additional attention and importance in the coming weeks.

In August of 2009, the City of Oakland passed its Soft-Story Seismic Screening Program, applies only to buildings constructed before 1991 with at least 5 residential units, two or more stories, and parking or commercial space on the ground floor. This program does not require building owners to complete seismic retrofits.

Owners of such buildings must hire a licensed civil or structural engineer, a licensed B contractor, or certified building or home inspector to complete a Level 1 screening form within 6 months of notification. This Level 1 screening form requires detailed information about the building, including a to scale plan of the ground floor showing walls and openings and their dimensions.

A Level 2 Evaluation report may be required if the Level 1 Screening confirms a soft-story building  condition or if the building site is on a significant ground slope (rise of the ground adjacent to any side of the ground floor is 6 feet or more). The Level 2 Evaluation Report is a full engineering investigation and analysis similar to what is required by the cities of Berkeley or Alameda which must be prepared by a licensed Structural Engineer or Architect. This report must also be provided to the building’s occupants and future tenants.

In order to streamline the screening process, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) is hosting training sessions for potential Level 1 building screeners. Building owners should make sure to hire a screener who has completed this training in order to assure that their report will meet Oakland’s ordinance requirements.  While the owner may feel inclined to hire a less expensive contractor or an inspector to perform this screening, I would recommend hiring an experienced engineer or architect. An experienced seismic design professional will be able to advise you as to whether your building is likely to be classified as a Soft-Story building, and an  engineer’s familiarity with your building will pay off if a Level 2 report needs to be prepared.

There is a $78.60 fee for filing a Level 1 Screening or Level 2 report. According to the City of Oakland, failure to submit a screening or evaluation report will subject the building owner to a $5000 penalty.

More information about the City of Oakland Soft-Story Ordinance is available on our website at www.enginious-structures.com/pages/softoakland.html, or at the Oakland Building Department.

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