Q1: I have owned and managed multiple buildings in the L.A area. Some of my buildings are considered soft story and I have already completed three properties with the same company. They are almost similar in the number of units, yet the third building took substantially longer to complete than the other two. Overall, I am satisfied with their services, but I am hesitant if I should be using them on my next ones. What could be the cause for the delay in completion? Isn’t every soft story retrofitting the same? 

A1: Since every building has its unique characteristics as to structure, size, unit breakdown, tenants, maintenance issues, and other variances, each soft-story retrofitting is different. The number of units does not dictate nor project the type of retrofitting needed to comply with the ordinance. In fact, many times, similar size buildings require different seismic elements installed and may present different challenges. Some of the challenges are a pre-existing gas line that is in the way, the type of soil that exists underneath the building, or deteriorated plumbing and beams that are found after you start exposing the area. While some obstructions may be found during a pre-construction inspection, others are only discovered once construction begins. Tenants’ cooperation is also an important factor. Many times, tenants will ignore requests to remove their cars and construction cannot resume until the area is clear of cars and personal belongings. For example, projects can be completed in 10-15 days when no challenges or obstructions are presented, but it could also take almost double and triple that time on similar sized buildings when there are field and tenant-related challenges. Experience is always a critical factor when you choose a professional company to handle your projects and no matter the cause for the delay, it sounds like their expertise eventually produced solutions with satisfactory results for all three projects. 

Q2: I am a tenant and my building is undergoing retrofitting work for the past month. There is a big opening in the front of our parking spaces, and it looks like it is just the beginning of the project. I really need to be parking in my space as it is a busy street and parking is always an issue. I understand the importance of getting our building retrofitted but how do I know when to expect this project to be completed? Do I need to clear my space throughout all phases of construction?  

A2: The average seismic project is about three months from start of construction until the final inspection by LADBS and the okay for Certificate of Compliance is obtained. Typically, the first phase of construction requires demolition of existing stucco, cutting through the cement, and opening of trenches right next to where cars are parked. This phase can take about two to three weeks, until seismic elements are installed and new cement is poured onto the trenches. Usually, you can expect to resume parking in your space after the cement has dried, or at least after business hours. The last phase of lathing, stucco, and paint takes about one to two weeks. Often, retrofitting companies will cover the open trenches with plywood or steel plates to allow for parking but generally, it is safer for tenants not to park during construction at all.  

Q3: The 7.1 earthquake in Ridgecrest that recently happened reminded me how I felt back in 1994 during the Northridge quake. I live in Panorama City and it felt close to us. I own an apartment building not so far from my house and even though my engineer already submitted plans to retrofit the building, I am concerned not only for myself and my family but also for the safety of my tenants.  What can I do to be better prepared if a major quake happened?

A3: Even though I did not experience the 1994 Northridge quake, I totally relate to how you feel. Unfortunately, earthquakes are unpredictable and can be so strong and fierce that it makes you feel vulnerable and helpless. We can never be too prepared for a major quake; however, we can always educate ourselves and plan forward to minimize damage and hopefully save lives. First, we must always remember to follow earthquake response guidelines such as DROP to the ground, COVER your head and body, and HOLD ON to a sturdy structure or furniture. In addition, I suggest you collect and routinely update all your tenants’ contact information including their emergency contact numbers. When natural disasters happen, the most immediate responses usually arrive from your neighbors and community. My advice is to have a meeting focused on earthquake preparation and planning to discuss any existing potential hazards such as shelving or cabinet units that are attached to walls that may need reinforcement. As a landlord, I suggest you inspect all common areas and ensure there are no loose shelves, especially in laundry rooms, and ensure you have the Gas Shut off Valve installed. You may also store a first aid kit and a basic supply box in a secured ground floor area in the building to be used in case of an emergency. I recommend attending one of many free workshops such as CERT (a Community Response Team) and Shake Out with your tenants. Finally, start planning as early as possible and think of all the possible scenarios that you may undergo and can be better prepared for. Communities are much more resilient when they plan and act together.   

Dee Soffer is the founder and CEO of Retro Experts, a soft story retrofitting compliance company that has served over 400 projects to date. Dee is a serial entrepreneur with a proven track record of 25+ years of managing multi-family apartment buildings and real estate investments. Making an impact on community resilience is her drive and passion. Dee can be reached at 818.600.4325 or visit www.retroexperts.com.