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L. A. Requires Seismic Retrofitting for Vulnerable Buildings

L. A. Requires Seismic Retrofitting for Vulnerable Buildings

Most Los Angeles residents and commercial property owners are very well aware of the fact that the city and surrounding areas are vulnerable to a powerful earthquake.  Last month, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to pass the most rigorous seismic regulations in the country.  Approximately 15,000 commercial properties will be required to complete a seismic retrofit to ensure they can withstand the intense shaking that comes with a violent earthquake.  The updated building codes are designed to keep vulnerable buildings upright during a quake, allowing employees, customers and tenants to move to safety without injury.  According to the mayor, the ultimate goal of enacting stricter building regulations is to ensure the city has the ability to “survive and thrive” after a major earthquake.

The new regulation focuses on two specific types of commercial properties:  brittle concrete buildings and wood-frame apartments that are built over carports.  With this new law in place, property owners have 25 years to retrofit concrete buildings and seven years to complete a retrofit on wood-frame apartment buildings.  Prior to these new regulations, close to 13,500 apartment complexes were identified as potentially needing some type of retrofitting.  In addition, approximately 1,000 large concrete buildings will need to go through a retrofit to strengthen their ability to withstand the rocking and rolling of a major temblor.

Even though the city is located close to the San Andreas Fault, Los Angeles has had a history of ignoring the dangers and potential devastation that can occur as a result of strong mega-quakes.  Over the past several decades, commercial property owners have objected to all attempts to identify vulnerable buildings; efforts to strengthen the building codes to require any type of retrofitting have been blocked as well.  Of course, most of the objections were related to the large cost associated with retrofitting any building.  With this new law in place, property owners will need to find a way to cover the costs of any maintenance necessary to strengthen their building.  The cost to retrofit a wood-frame apartment building could be as much as $130,000; retrofitting tall concrete structures will cost millions of dollars, depending on the construction steps necessary to meet the new seismic regulations.

Although they recognize that retrofitting is necessary from a safety standpoint, building owners and renters remain concerned about how and who will pay for this mandatory retrofit.  The city council is currently looking at how costs can be shared in order to get the retrofitting completed without ruining businesses located throughout the city.   The new law currently allows apartment building owners to raise their tenant’s rent up to $75/month to help pay for seismic retrofits.  There is concern, however, that many apartment residents simply cannot afford such a hike in their rent.  Property owners and other apartment groups are currently looking for financial support, such as tax breaks and reduced permit fees and business licenses, for owners who complete the retrofit.

As stated earlier, seismic retrofitting concrete buildings is considerably more expensive.  Commercial property owners hope the city council will find a way to provide financial incentives to complete the retrofit, especially if the buildings must be vacated to complete the necessary maintenance work.

Only a fraction of the concrete structures in the Los Angeles area have gone through a seismic retrofit.  Because a mega-quake could happen at any time, commercial property owners should consider a retrofit now, rather than waiting until the end of the required timeframe.  The safety of those who work or live in building structures known to be at risk during a powerful quake should be the number one reason to schedule a retrofit as soon as possible.

If you would like additional information about the seismic retrofitting process or to schedule a building inspection, contact the experienced team at Saunders Commercial Seismic Retrofit today!


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(949) 646-0034

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