A violent tremor, moments of panic, floors that rumble and walls that groan. For those who experience an earthquake at home, the structure designed to be a safe haven poses the greatest threat. Especially for residents in soft-story dwellings – the wooden frame construction combined with ground floor parking results in weaker walls. When the ground trembles, these multi-family apartments risk collapsing and causing significant injuries, property damage and loss of life.

In California, scientists are predicting a greater chance of major earthquakes, magnitude 8.0 or greater, over the next 30 years. As many cities across the state begin mandating seismic retrofits for commercial properties, shrewd building owners are starting to take action. Dilip Khatri, Ph.D., a structural engineer specializing in quake-resilient buildings in Los Angeles, advises property owners to begin the retrofitting process without delay. “Prices will continue to rise because of the demand for services,” he said. “It makes sense to get your project done sooner rather than later.”

In Los Angeles, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and San Francisco, property owners have received or will soon receive notices that their building must be structurally strengthened. For soft-story multifamily buildings, property owners have seven years to complete seismic retrofitting, with proof of plans due by year two.

Permit times depend on the city. For example, in L.A., the average time is about four to five months from the date of submittal, Khatri says. Some building owners may consider a total demolish, however, retrofit costs “are manageable and should be economically viable for most projects,” he adds.

PACE to the Rescue

Smaller multi-family buildings account for a majority of L.A.’s 15,000 commercial apartment buildings identified for seismic retrofits. While large commercial property owners have access to more capital resources, owners of these modest four- and six-unit buildings are left searching for alternatives to credit-based financing.

Property assessed clean energy (PACE) programs enable property owners to access financing for energy efficiency, water conservation and renewable energy upgrades – now the option is available for seismic retrofits. YgreneWorks’ financing program for seismic can help commercial property owners in L.A., Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and San Francisco comply with city earthquake codes while retaining their working capital.

“Capital is a big issue for small investors with limited equity,” Khatri says. “Rent control certainly does not help. Property owners will be looking at either ‘weathering’ this storm or selling their investments. It’s a plain fact of reality because [retrofits] are mandatory, so you have to evaluate your options.”

Benefits of Ygrene’s PACE Program for Seismic Retrofits

With Ygrene’s PACE for seismic improvements, commercial property owners can finance up to 100 percent of their retrofitting project for no money upfront. The amount financed is then incorporated into property taxes and repaid over the long term, up to 30 years.

With fast approvals, no FICO score required and fixed annual payments repaid with property taxes, building owners can gain peace of mind knowing they have acted in time to prevent or reduce devastating losses while increasing safety for all tenants.

Ordinance deadlines are approaching quickly. If you’re a multi-family commercial property owner, be sure you can find an experienced engineering and construction team before demand and costs skyrocket. Your tenants are counting on you.


Ygrene is hosting a free seismic webinar at 11 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 28. Learn how to protect your tenants, and yourself – register today!