This article was posted on Monday, Jul 01, 2013

Now that the Board of Supervisors has passed the city’s first mandatory soft-story retrofit ordinance, there appears to be much confusion as to how it will be implemented and what the role and responsibilities are of those property owners who are affected.

Example of a classic soft-story apartment building.

In this article, we provide a brief outline of the steps involved:

1. Sometime between late September 2013 and January 2014 the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) will send out notices and a screening form to all properties requiring initial screening: wood-framed buildings built before 1978 containing five or more residential units and two or more stories over a weak or “soft” ground floor. This simple screening form can be completed by any California-licensed architect or engineer, and is not intended to be a detailed analysis of the structural system. Rather, it’s verification that the subject building is in or out of the scope of the ordinance. If it’s within the scope of the law, the building is placed into one of four compliance tiers (Table 1).

The property owner then has one year to complete the screening form and return it to DBI for review. If the property has already undergone a soft-story retrofit under the city’s

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earlier voluntary retrofit program (S.F. Administrative Bulletin AB-094), the owner needn’t have an architect or engineer complete the form, but only needs to provide the application number, and as long as the work has already been inspected and signed off by DBI, can opt out of the mandatory program.

2. There is an optional evaluation form for properties that have done other retrofitting work not covered under the earlier voluntary program or which meet the performance standards set by the mandatory ordinance.

This form provides another avenue for property owners to opt out of the program, but requires a more detailed review by an engineer (of the owner’s choosing). After the engineer’s review, the form is submitted to DBI
for verification and a determination.

3. If the subject property requires a retrofit based on the screening form or by DBI determination, it is placed into one of four compliance tiers (Table 1).

Table 1.  Compliance Tiers

Tier 1 Buildings   used for educational, assembly, or residential care facility purposes
Tier II Buildings   with 15 or more units
Tier III Buildings   that do not fall within the definition of another tier
Tier IV Buildings   with ground-floor commercial or located in a mapped liquefaction zone






4. The owner hires a licensed structural engineer to draw up retrofit plans, and presents them to DBI for review and issuance of a building permit.


5. DBI reviews the plans, and if approved, issues the permit. The retrofit work can then begin. The contractor hired to do the work is required to call in for the appropriate inspections as required by Chapter 108A of the S.F. Building Code. Once construction is complete and the permit has been approved, DBI issues a Certificate of Final Completion (CFC). The timeline for each phase of the process is outlined in Table 2.

Table 2.  Compliance Deadlines (in years) 

Compliance Tier





Submission of screening form   & optional evaluation form





Submission of permit   application with plans for seismic retrofit   work





Completion of work &   issuance of CFC






Reprinted with permission of the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute (SPOSFI) News.  For more information on becoming a member of SPOSFI or to send a tax-deductible donation, please visit their website at or call (415) 647-2419.



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