Earthquake Retrofits Protect Lives, Investments and Prevent Liability

Industry News,

By Ali Sahabi, Chief Operating Officer, Optimum Seismic


Earthquakes are a constant threat here in California. “The Big One” can hit anytime, and cause severe damage to vulnerable apartment buildings, along with death and injuries. Apartment buildings with a “soft story” are particularly at-risk of earthquake damage. Soft-story buildings usually have a large, open ground floor space like a parking area, with one or more stories of units above it. Without shear walls and other seismic strengthening, there’s nothing to prevent one or more upper levels from collapsing into the area below.

Owners can obtain numerous economic advantages by addressing these risks.  When buildings are structurally secured with earthquake retrofits, apartment owners preserve their equity, protect their income stream, safeguard important physical assets, and avoid costly liability claims for tenant injuries and death. Recognizing these benefits, the Los Angeles City Council acted to protect the public by passing two earthquake retrofit ordinances in 2015 (Nos. 183893 and 184081), which authorized a survey of all buildings in the city that needed a soft story retrofit.  The City then set deadlines for building owners to complete the retrofit process. Since then, Optimum Seismic has worked with many of the approximately 8,000 property owners who have completed their Los Angeles earthquake retrofit projects.

Earthquake retrofit projects are unique to each individual building. Depending on when the building was constructed, the materials that were used and the architecture of the structure, one soft story retrofit project may be more involved than another. The most important thing about your earthquake retrofit project is that it’s done right. You and your tenants will ultimately measure the quality and success of your retrofit project based on how well your building stands up to the next major earthquake.

Six Steps to Retrofitting Your Soft-Story Apartment Building

Step 1 – Obtain a free preliminary consultation. Experts like Optimum Seismic can then provide a fixed fee earthquake engineering proposal that will give you an idea about high and low construction estimates.

Step 2 – Once an engineering contract is signed, a survey of your property should be completed to prepare as built plans, perform engineering calculations, and complete an efficient and constructible design which meets the needs of your particular building. Plans will be submitted to the building department and go through the plan check process.

Step 3 – Plans are approved and Permit Ready. We provide a copy of approved plans and a fixed, guaranteed price for construction. At this point the client can shop for bids using these approved plans.

Step 4 – If a construction contract is signed, a Tenant Habitability Plan process must be completed in most jurisdictions, and owners would also obtain the permit and post notices to all tenants. We are required to give 21 days’ notice before work can start for the City of Los Angeles.

Step 5 – Construction is usually performed between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. and all trenches are safely covered at 5:00 p.m. or when the workday ends so tenants can park as usual.

Step 6 – Approval of a Cost Recovery Application by jurisdictions like the city of Los Angeles allows property owners to pass through a portion of retrofit costs to tenants. Optimum Seismic can assist in this process.

If your soft-story building is required to have a retrofit, time is running out to comply with the city of Los Angeles’ soft-story retrofitting laws. Therefore, it’s important to obtain a professional soft story retrofit consultation now. We at Optimum Seismic have successfully guided building owners through the seismic retrofitting process since 1984, and we are ready to help make your apartment building earthquake resistant.


Recently appointed to Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass’ transition team, Ali Sahabi, a licensed General Engineering Contractor (GEC), is an expert in seismic resilience and sustainability. He is Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Optimum Seismic, Inc., which has completed more than 3,500 seismic retrofit and adaptive reuse projects for multifamily residential, commercial, and industrial buildings throughout California. Contact Optimum Seismic today at (833) 978-7664 or visit to arrange a complimentary evaluation of your building today.