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Los Angeles Will Start Requiring Earthquake Retrofits For Apartment Buildings in February

Pardon the pun, but 2016 might bring quite the shakeup to the Los Angeles rental market when the first phase of its historic earthquake retrofitting begins. Since the sweeping retrofit mandate passed last month, the Department of Building and Safety has been hard at work compiling an official list of apartment buildings most at risk of collapse, and that list should be completed by early next year. Starting in February, the retrofit program officially begins when the city mails out its first batch of retrofit orders to landlords, reports the LA Times. Who exactly will pay for the high cost of these retrofits still remains very much in question.

The retrofit orders will roll out in waves, beginning with wooden structures. An estimated 13,500 buildings fall under this category. The first to receive notifications will be owners of larger apartment buildings with 16 or more units. After that, owners of smaller soft-story buildings (i.e., dingbats, where the second story overhangs parking) will get the mandate along with any other structures not yet notified.

When notified of a mandatory retrofit, landlords will have a few options: they have one year to submit plans to either retrofit or demolish the structure, or they can submit proof that the retrofitting is unnecessary. Building owners then have two years to obtain permits to retrofit and seven years to complete the job. Retrofits for a wooden structure are estimated to cost anywhere from $60,000 to $130,000.

Concrete structures are a different beast altogether. First, they're considerably more expensive to retrofit—the pricetag for retrofitting a concrete building runs into the millions of dollars. Second, they tend to be older, so it can be a pain for inspectors to track down city records to confirm structural information. The LA Times estimates some 1,500 concrete buildings could be in need of seismic strengthening, and many will require on-site inspections to confirm. Because of the painstaking process, the city anticipates a longer timeline for identifying concrete buildings in need of seismic retrofitting than for wooden buildings. Due to the high costs and complexity of retrofitting, owners of concrete buildings will have 25 years to complete seismic retrofitting once notified.

The biggest question, though, remains unanswered; who is going to pay for all these retrofits? The city is working on tax breaks for landlords and could potentially waive permit fees, but nothing is set in stone yet. And they're still debating the merits of passing the cost on to already severely burdened renters, but are deadlocked on the issue. Until a solution is found, simply demolishing an apartment building and selling the land could be a more financially sound option for many property owners. With developers seemingly at the ready to build a luxury mixed-use apartment building on every scrap of land in the city, this does not bode well for the already wildly unaffordable LA housing market.
· L.A. to begin ordering earthquake retrofits in February, officials say [LA Times]
· L.A. officials present a plan for renters and landlords to split the costs of quake retrofitting [LA Times]
· L.A.'s epic task: Fixing buildings that earthquakes could flatten [LA Times]
· Los Angeles Requiring Earthquake Retrofitting For 15,000 of Its Scariest Apartment Buildings [Curbed LA]
· Mapping LA's 1,451 Most Potentially Collapse-Prone Buildings [Curbed LA]