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Soft Story Retrofitting – Still Puzzled? Ask the Expert! By Dee Soffer

Posted on 01. Sep, 2019 by in all

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Q1: I own a soft-story property in LA and received a notice to comply almost two years ago. I got too busy and did not hire an engineer yet so I am concerned that I may not be able meet the submission deadline.  What are my options? Are there any fees or penalties involved?

A1: The City of Los Angeles gives out penalties for not meeting the deadlines. The grace period before the first penalty is fifteen days after the compliance deadline. Once those fifteen days are over, the first monetary penalty of $660 is given. 

If you don’t pay that penalty after another fifteen days, there is a second monetary penalty of $2,300. There is no official grace period after the second penalty. If you miss that deadline, a hearing will be scheduled in front of the City Attorney. This can take about a month to process.

However, there is a way you can avoid the penalties. If you find yourself in a bind and don’t think you will meet the deadline, the City of Los Angeles has a six-month extension for a fee of $255.06. These six months will give you the opportunity to hire an engineer and get the project started and it might be worth it, considering that the cost of the application fee is significantly less than the penalties. Just be cautious. If you miss the deadline of the additional six months, you will receive the first penalty. 

Q2: We are the owners of two soft-story properties on different sides of LA, one in the San Fernando Valley and the other in West LA.  I finished construction on both and would like to recover some of the retrofitting cost. I have three questions. Is it mandatory that I do it for both properties or can I pick and choose? What do I need to do to apply for the Cost Recovery Program? What information is needed? 

A2: The Cost Recovery Program is not mandatory and is an optional avenue for landlords to recover up to 50% of the seismic retrofitting costs through their residents. You may choose to do it on one property and not do it on the other, as it is completely up to your discretion.

To apply for the Cost Recovery program, you need to submit an application disclosing invoices, cleared checks, copies of the THP (Tenant Habitability Plan) and permits, and a contract from the company to the Housing Department. Based off all the information in the application, the Housing Department will calculate the rate of increase of up to $38 that you will qualify for, in order to recover the cost over a ten-year period.

Q3: Our property is in West L.A. and I received many calls and letters from our tenants voicing their concern for loss of parking during the seismic construction and wanting to be compensated or relocated from their unit during the construction period.   Are they entitled to compensation or relocation? Will they be able to park their cars during the construction?  

A3: In most seismic retrofitting projects, the construction affects primarily the parking area and the driveway leading to it. Every city has different parking regulations and guidelines but generally, there is no mandatory compensation for relocation since the seismic retrofit does not involve any construction work inside the units. However, since parking in West L.A. could be quite a challenge, we had a couple of projects that we collaborated with the property owners and offered to pay for a temporary alternative to ease the burden of parking for the tenants. Even though it is not mandatory, it did make a huge difference in completing these projects on time and with minimal interruptions to both sides – tenants and field workers. 

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.

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