When the next big earthquake hits, San Francisco hopes more residents will be safe and secure as a result of a new law requiring seismic upgrades to soft-story buildings, but not many property owners have responded yet.
You've seen them around -- soft-story buildings with at least two stories, over a soft or weak story such as a parking area, and at least five units. Many of these can be found in the Marina District, where several soft-story buildings collapsed during Loma Prieta. One of the lessons learned there is that a building's weak spots need to be shored up. But there are thousands of property owners who might miss a deadline on telling the city what they plan to do.
A 7-unit apartment building and one of the first in San Francisco to comply with a new mandatory retrofit law. The requirement covers so-called soft-story buildings, multi-story wood-framed buildings with a garage, large windows or other openings on the ground floor that make them vulnerable during a quake.
"Right now, 1 in 4 of these types of buildings with no retrofit are expected to collapse. With even minor retrofitting, that number goes to 1 in 30," said William Strawn with the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection.
During the Loma Prieta quake, the buildings that gave way in the Marina were soft-story structures. Notices have now gone out to 6,200 owners of properties built before 1978 who fall into the category, but only about 1,800 have responded to let the city know if they have taken the first step of having a professional evaluation.
The city's final notice is this September. "The money part of it is probably tough for some of the people to swallow, with the economy and things, but I guess they're going to have to do it," Steven Daniele with Daniele Inc. told ABC7 News. He put the cost of one soft-story retrofit as high as $75,000. For others, it could go much higher, but the San Francisco Apartment Association (SFAA) says help is available.
"We've been pleased that the city has come up with a number of private and public financing options for landlords in San Francisco," said Charley Goss witjh SFAA.
Landlords are also allowed to pass the costs on to tenants, but there is a hardship exemption for low-income renters. "That definitely gives us solace. We will need to get the word out to tenants that they can apply for this exemption, because it's not automatic," said Ted Gullicksen with the San Francisco Tenants Union.
Property owners have 4-7 years to complete the work, but they must first get started by contacting the city by September, to avoid penalties.