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'Soft-story' building owners set to receive orders to complete a seismic retrofit

FILE - In this Jan. 17, 1994 file photo, a Los Angeles police officer stands in front of the Northridge Meadows Apartment building, after the upper floors of the structure collapsed onto the open garages and first story, killing 16 people. Los Angeles has started the process of upgrading so-called “soft-story” buildings. (AP Photo/Chuck Jackson, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 17, 1994 file photo, a Los Angeles police officer stands in front of the Northridge Meadows Apartment building, after the upper floors of the structure collapsed onto the open garages and first story, killing 16 people. Los Angeles has started the process of upgrading so-called “soft-story” buildings. (AP Photo/Chuck Jackson, File)
Chuck Jackson/AP

Owners of thousands of Los Angeles buildings will begin receiving notices from the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety that they must complete a seismic retrofit.

The start of the notification process comes some five months after the L.A. City Council approved a law that calls for buildings with a "soft" first story to undergo reinforcements so that they can withstand a major earthquake.

So-called "soft-story" buildings have wood frame construction with a first floor that has large openings in the perimeter walls, such as garages, tuck-under parking or even large windows. The construction followed building code standards enacted before 1978.

The first property owners to receive notices are those who own buildings that are three or more stories and have 16 or more dwelling units.

The city aims to mail about 100 letters to these owners by the end of this week, Building and Safety spokesman David Larra said in an email.

In July, orders will be mailed to people who own buildings with 16 or more dwelling units that are two stories or less.

The last wave of notifications – to owners of condominiums and commercial buildings – is scheduled to begin in October of 2017.

Building and Safety's Soft-Story Retrofit Unit in April released a list of about 13,500 buildings that could be in need of a retrofit.

There are about 2,900 buildings that have three or more stories, according to Building and Safety data. Some 12,100 of the buildings are apartments, and about 1,400 are condominiums or commercial buildings, the data show.

Property owners who receive a notice must comply with the ordinance within specific time limits:

Priority Tier Criteria Orders Sent Starting
I. Buildings with 16 or more dwelling units 3-story and above May 2, 2016
  2-story July 22, 2016
II. Buildings with 3 or more stories with less than 16 units Oct 17, 2016
III. Buildings not within Priority I or II with 9-15 units Jan 30, 2017
  with 7-8 units May 29, 2017
  with 4-6 units Aug 14, 2017
  Condos/Commercial Oct 30, 2017