Regional Seismic Retrofit News in Southern California

Southern California has been known to to subject to earthquake hazards. Recently, the region has been rattled with numerous seismic activities whose regulation and implementation can vary significantly based on geographic location. Recognizing that there might be knowledge gaps between the government and the public, we want to help the local residents in Los Angles, West Hollywood, and Santa Monica stay updated with local seismic updates.

1/ Los Angeles Area – The Tenant Habitability Program

With all of the recent talk centered around the mandatory seismic retrofitting of buildings in Los Angeles, you (the tenant) might be wondering “what does this mean for me, my family, and my home?”. If the building that you live in has received notification of mandate for a seismic retrofitting there are some very important things that you should know. First and most importantly, there is a mandatory plan in place intended to protect you and your loved ones during the time of construction. The Tenant Habitability Program was created to protect tenants from displacement or unsatisfactory living conditions while their building is undergoing construction.

The Tenant Habitability Plan or “THP” must be filed before any work is done to the building. This plan should include a description of the estimated impact that the retrofit process will have on tenant’s apartment and any disruption to their personal property. Under this plan, if relocation is required, the owner is required to pay relocation benefits to the building’s current tenants. In addition, the Tenant Habitability Plans includes any sort of estimated disruptions that tenants may experience, such as if water, electrical, or gas services are affected. Your building’s Tenant Habitability Plan will cover all planned disruptions as well as accidental disruptions during the time of construction. Once your building owner provides you with a copy of the THP, it is your decision (as well as the other tenants) if you will choose to appeal it. Once the THP is given to you and your fellow tenants, you have 15 days to appeal it.

We understand that this time may be stressful for you and your family but you can rest assured knowing that the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department (HCIDLA) is looking out for your interests and well being. Thus far there has not been a lot of push back, as tenants understand that the short term inconvenience of retrofitting will ultimately result in a safer home later. However, for the tenants and their families it is reassuring to know that they are protected under this plan and are a major consideration in the retrofit process.

For more information on the Tenant Habitability Program, visit http://hcidla.lacity.org/Tenant-Habitability-Program


2/ West Hollywood Area – Updates for Condo Owners 

West Hollywood condo owners have been exempted from the proposed mandatory seismic retrofits in West Hollywood. At a meeting on June 19th, the decision was announced that condominium owners were not subject to the mandatory ordinance. West Hollywood condominium owners strongly objected to the mandatory ordinance, citing in particular that the costs to retrofit would be particularly high for them. Condo owners came together, sending e-mails and letters to West Hollywood council members, to argue against the mandate. It was argued that condos should be treated as single family homes, which are also exempt from this mandate. Another claim of West Hollywood condominium owners was that the 1994 Northridge earthquake did not cause excessive damages to their building. They reasoned that since their building withstood this quake, it should be voluntary that they retrofit their buildings. Many condo owners cited that the retrofit would force them to move out of their homes that they had lived in for decades.

Residents of Sierra Towers, a 31 story high rise in West Hollywood, were particularly vocal and introduced a cost estimate to city council. This cost estimate stated that the cost to retrofit alone the Sierra Towers building would be nearly $31 million dollars, a cost that would be split between 145 units (roughly $213,000 per homeowner).  This does not include the cost of asbestos removal, displacement, and “repairs to high-end finishes”, according to Sierra Towers resident Jim Goodrich. This cost estimate was calculated by West Hollywood residents based on a cost study that was done by the city of West Hollywood with the help of professional engineers. However, it is very difficult to estimate cost for seismic retrofits because each building is different and may require more or less reinforcement than another. Condo owners certainly seemed sympathetic to the intention of the seismic retrofit program, but were unwilling to get behind the costs to do so. Soft story apartment buildings in West Hollywood will still be required to follow the mandatory retrofit ordinance, which will go into effect in April 2018.


3/ Santa Monica Area 

a. General Seismic Retrofit Updates   

As you may already know, the Santa Monica City Council approved a stringent seismic retrofit ordinance on March 28th, 2017. While the retrofit of single family homes is voluntary in the city, there are a list of other building types that require seismic retrofitting. While some must be retrofitted as quickly as 2 years upon receiving notice, others have up to 20 years to comply with the ordinance.

Retrofit Timeline By Building Type

Now that the ordinance has been passed, the issue of how to deal with the costs associated with seismically vulnerable buildings that are subject to rent control has come up. In other cities, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, you can pass through a percentage of the retrofit cost to tenants. In Los Angeles, property owners can pass through 50% while in San Francisco property owners can pass through 100% of the seismic retrofit costs to tenants- through incremental increases in rent. There are at least 1200 buildings that fall under this ordinance which are subject to rent control- Santa Monica Daily Press reports.

In their meeting on October 12th, 2017, the Santa Monica Rent Control Board will discuss what percentage of the cost should be allowed to be passed through to Santa Monica’s tenants (if any at all).  The Santa Monica Rent Control Board urges all and any concerned parties, whether tenants or property owners, to come out to voice their opinions on this matter.

b. The Santa Monica Rent Control Board met on October 12th to discuss the upcoming seismic retrofit ordinance and its impact on rent controlled apartments in the city. 

It is not just the tenants that are upset about the potential for a rent increase, but property owners are also upset to have to mandatorily retrofit their buildings. Understandably, this is not a cost that many property owners anticipated having to incur- so it has come as quite a shock to many.

Property owners voiced concern over what they considered to be exorbitant prices to retrofit, with some stating that a retrofit would be financially devastating to them.  With nearly 2,000 buildings required to retrofit in Santa Monica, many property owners are concerned about the fast approaching deadlines.

In Thursday’s meeting the Santa Monica Rent Control Board discussed the potential pass through rate in the city. They discussed the pass through rate in Los Angeles, which is 50%, and in San Francisco which allows for 100% of the cost to be passed through to tenants. During the meeting there were many supporters of no pass-through for tenants, stating that they would be overburdened by this increase. Advocates for the tenants have overwhelmingly shown their support at these meetings.

While no decision was made on this issue at Thursday’s meeting, the Rent Control Board resolved to gather more information about the pass through programs that have been implemented in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Berkeley. Berkeley is of particular interest to Santa Monica because of similarities in city size and strength of rent control regulation.

The seismic retrofit ordinance deadlines in Santa Monica are approaching quickly so a decision must be made. Compared to other cities, Santa Monica’s retrofit ordinance is the most rushed in terms of deadlines.

Updates on this topic to follow as they are provided by the Santa Monica Rent Control Board.

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