Many of you know there are approximately 13,500 soft-story buildings in the City of Los Angeles that require a retrofit since the passing of Ordinance 183893 & 184081 in 2015. Most property owners do not know how lengthy the entire retrofit process can be. Did you know that it takes about a month to draft a set of engineering plans? And do you know how long it takes for the Department of Building and Safety to approve them?
In this article, I will share the process of retrofitting a soft-story to comply with the seismic retrofit ordinances of the City of Los Angeles, CA. We will cover the process for engineering plans, and for retrofit construction. The City of Los Angeles has established a dedicated Soft Story Division within the Department of Building and Safety located on the 8th floor of the Metro (Downtown) office located at 201 and 221 N. Figueroa Street Suite 890 Los Angeles, CA 90012. This article does not cover how much you can expect to pay for your engineering plans, read How Much do Engineering Plans Cost? to learn how much you can expect to pay for engineering plans.
(You’ll need a set of engineering-plans to submit to Building and Safety)
Soft Story Retrofit Plan Check Process
All plan check submittals are presented here. The process is as follows:
Walk-in during counter hours Monday through Fridayi, 7:30 am-4:30pm except Wed 9am-4:30 am.
- Preliminary Meeting
Engineers and contractors bring their soft story retro fit plans and have a 15-30 min sit down meeting with a City Engineer. At this stage, no formal submittal takes place but it is an important meeting. The city engineer will look over the plans and provide feedback on the drawings and the engineering calculations. In many cases they will provide a list of correction items that need to be reflected in the plans when they are formally submitted.
- Formal Submittal
After the preliminary meeting, the engineer comes back to the city and formally submits the plans. An application must be filled out and plan check fees paid.
You can expect the first round of corrections to take 30 days from the time plans are formally submitted. Once the corrections are made to the plans, you set up a meeting with the plan checker to go over the corrected plans. At this time the plans can be approved, and you are clear to move to the next step.
- Housing habitability Plan
A tenant habitability plan has to be filed with the City’s department of housing. The application and the plan are filed electronically and typically approved within 5 days. Tenants must be give a 25-day notice of work to commence.
(Earlier this month at the LADBS Metro Office, it takes 38 business days to get plans checked)
Soft Story Retrofit Timeline
The department has a posted sign detailing the number of days that it will take for new submittals to be assigned to a project engineer. The number of days fluctuates based on number of projects submitted and available staff to review the plans. Above is a picture I took of the posted sign. Normal submittal is 30 days.
Most people don’t realize that there is an expedited plan check service that the city offers for an additional $350. You can save about 15-20 days during the plan check process by requesting the expedited service.
Problems to avoid
The number one point of contention is parking spaces. Do not create plans that negatively impact or reduce the number of parking spaces on the property. You will get a tremendous amount of push back from the City. The seismic retrofit design must not reduce the number of on-site parking spaces.
Another item of contention worth mentioning is the ratio of window and door openings on the side walls of the tuck under parking. It is important that your design call out those opening dimensions and per for a ration calculation of wall space verses wall opening. It is a simple thing to do that shows the city engineers that you know what they are looking for.
Costs to Expect
Plan check fees typically fall between $850 and $1200 for projects between 8-12 units. Larger project that are more technical will run, $3000- $5,500. Don’t forget that these plan-check fees are collected by the city and are typically not included with the price of engineering plans.
(An example of Plan-Check Fees for one of our projects)
The City of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety is not perfect, but they are one of the best municipal building departments in the state. The process is not perfect either, but it can be navigated with a certain degree of success. The engineering staff at the Plan Check department is top notch and they will treat you with the upmost respect. Dealing with LADBS alone as a property owner is scary, you'll want a real professional to have your back during the plan-check process. A professional engineer or general contractor will get your plans approved in no time.
Want to Learn More?
If you want to learn everything there is to know about soft-story retrofits you'll want to check out our most in-depth article What is a Soft-Story Retrofit? Everything You Need to Know About Retrofits on our newest website. There, you'll be able to access all of our retrofit blog articles, case studies, our retrofit gallery, short videos, and enjoy free access to our full-length soft-story webinars. Our team has developed all this content for property owners like you. It is your destination to learn all about the retrofit process. Bay Cities Construction and Soft-Story Retrofit Pros is here to help answer any questions you may have about your retrofit project. Our team has the experience to Engineer & Build a Cost-Effective Retrofit Solution for your property. Get started today by visiting our website at www.softstoryretrofitpros.com to schedule a free assessment.
About the Author:
Alexander Rodriguez, MBA is a licensed contractor with over 20 years of construction experience. He has published hundreds of construction-related articles and is also an Adjunct Professor at Mount Saint Mary University, Los Angeles.