This article was posted on Thursday, Nov 01, 2018

Trust is a fragile gift – one that you must hold on to dearly and handle with the utmost care. We need trust in everything we do. It’s the component in life that when you have it, everything becomes possible.  It is the basis of healthy relationships; first cultivated with ourselves and then with everything that surrounds us.

Contractual Trust

In this short article, I want to focus on contractual trust – where one party promises to act a certain way and in return the other party promises to respond in an agreeable manner. This is the preliminary stage of establishing the very critical step of building the foundation for trust worthy relationships. The stage where expectations are built and deliverables become metrics for character judgment. Presumably, both sides take this step with their best of intentions to meet expectations.

Unfortunately, sometimes intentions and realities collide. Unknown and unexpected parameters enter and change the promises landscape causing a fracture of trust. I see it happen all the time with the new soft-story ordinance issued by Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) and adjacent cities who adopted the ordinance such as City of Santa Monica and City of West Hollywood.

Soft-Story Compliance

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Without going too deep into the specifics of the ordinance, a soft-story property, as portrayed in the current ordinance, has distinct characteristics; it is a multi-level residential wood structure in which the first floor is most commonly used as a parking area with an opening that is greater than the sum of all openings on the floors above (such as windows, balconies, doors, etc. as depicted on the picture below). Sounds confusing? Well, there is more to it.

The ordinance calls for every soft-story property inL.A., Santa Monica and West Hollywood to be retrofitted to comply with new building codes, and ultimately, withstand a major earthquake.

Assuming you intend to retrofit the building, (and not demolish or withdraw it from the rental market), the first steps of compliance are:

  • to contract a structural engineer and
  • submit a structural plan proposing a justifiable seismic solution

On that premise, one may think structural engineers have a unified view or parameters to work by and that the differences from one to another are not so spread out. Unfortunately, it is far from reality, at least in the soft-story compliance arena.

Due to the nature of this ordinance and the many forms and shapes of existing structures, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. How you retrofit your building and how much it should cost you relies heavily on the design and parameters drawn by the structural engineer you choose, and even more so, on your ability to analyze, understand, and contest the proposed designs. Compliance may be promised and even guaranteed but methods and the final cost remain a big puzzle. Most of the time, structural engineers, possibly with the best of intentions, may design and often over-design a plan without knowing field obstructions and construction cost. This can translate into thousands of dollars in implementation issues and construction costs.


So how can you, the soft-story property owner, trust and contract a compliance service provider? My suggestion is that you must obtain second and third opinions, brainstorm, research, and most importantly, rely on experienced professionals who have complied with this specific ordinance. You may fall into the trap of being seduced with low prices and that is a subject of its own I intend to write about soon. The bottom line is, as with many other areas of our lives, engaging with trust-worthy professionals is the utmost critical component to an overall successful compliance.

Dee Soffer is the CEO of Retro Experts Inc., a Soft-Story Retrofitting Compliance Service. For more information about the soft-story process, please contact [email protected] at (818) 600-4325.