FAQ Mandatory Soft Story Program - What is it and how does it affect me if I live in San Francisco?

What is the Mandatory Soft Story Program?

Here are some important facts about the ordinance. Note, this section will be updated in the future as needed.

  • All properties potentially within the scope of this ordinance (according to Department of Building Inspection and Assessors Office records) were noticed on September 15, 2013. See here for noticing information.
  • The screening form and optional evaluation form must be completed by a licensed engineer or architect, with the exception of those buildings with work completed under the AB-094 program.
  • The Structural Engineers Association of Northern California offers a Structural Engineer Referral List, linked here.
  • The work specified by the ordinance for buildings requiring retrofit will almost always be limited to the ground floor areas, minimizing the impacts on residents of the building.
  • All work within the scope of this ordinance, as certified per San Francisco Rent Board procedures governing "Seismic Work Required by Law," will be subject to related passthrough regulation and allowances. This work may be passed along at 100%. Although, tenants facing hardship may use the hardship appeal process for passthroughs. Tenants meeting Rent Board criteria will be able to apply for appeal on the basis of financial hardship passed through rent increases resulting from the work. Please click here for that application.
  • Retrofits for buildings typically cost between $60,000 and $130,000 per building. The City has worked closely with local finance industry leaders to assemble a menu of finance options. Please see our Finance Section for more details.
  • This work may trigger disabled access upgrades to commercial spaces. A few important facts to note: (1) Residential spaces are exempt from compliance in all buildings constructed prior to March 13, 1991; (2) Any privately owned building with ground-floor commercial spaces, the San Francisco Building Code, Section 1134B requires 20% of construction costs be spent on disabled access improvements when projects are under the annual threshold of $139,934.96; (3) Unreasonable Hardship Requests (UHR) may be granted per San Francisco Building Code, Section 1134B.
  • IMPORTANT:  There is currently NO, and has never been an official list of "unsafe" properties. Until a licensed design professional has done a building assessment, there is no such information on any specific building. All addresses potentially subject to this ordinance will be posted on the Department of Building Inspection's Soft Story Program website, located atwww.sfdbi.org/softstory.
  • On October 10, 2013, Mayor Ed Lee signed into law provisions that clarify the existing process for residential tenant financial hardship, allowing tenants who can not afford the capital improvement passthrough of the costs of a mandatory seismic retrofit a clearer and simplified path to being granted a hardship exemption as well as clarifying those procedures for property owners. The language of the ordinance can be downloaded here. Also, please contact the San Francisco Rent Board for question at 415-252-4602.

What is the Timeline and how do I comply?

Ordinance and Timeline

This ordinance, located here for download, requires the retrofit of all San Francisco buildings that meet ALL of the following criteria:

  • Wood frame construction (Type V), and
  • Application of permit for original construction was prior to January 1, 1978, and
  • Five or more residential units, and
  • Two or more stories over a basement or underfloor area that has any portion extending above grade, and
  • A soft story condition that has not been seismically strengthened to the standards set forth in the ordinance.

The ordinance was signed into law on April 18, 2013 at the annual commemoration of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and became operative as of June 17, 2013 and is current law in San Francisco. Currently, buildings potentially within the scope of this ordinance have been noticed.

Please see the below for more information about the noticing, screening and tiers, as well as information for tenants, property owners, and engineers.


Noticing and Screening

On September 15, 2013 the City issued notices to all wood frame buildings containing five or more dwelling units, two or more stories, and permitted for construction prior to January 1978. Notices were sent to building owners at the address used for property tax notification within the Assessor's Office databases. Check out our Concentration Map--this map shows the concentration, by voting precinct, of wood frame, five or more unit, three or more story, pre-1987 buildings Choosing the right Contractor?

Buildings within the scope of the program that have completed work to the standards of the ordinance, have completed an AB-094 voluntary retrofit, or are not soft story buildings will not be required to go any further than the screening process in the program by opting out of the program and its requirements using the optional evaluation form or the screening form respectively. Both forms must be completed in all cases by a licensed engineer or architect, except in cases where AB-094 work was completed.

After screening, each building subject to the ordinance must be evaluated and begin the process of complying with the ordinance. The screening process places each building into one of four compliance tiers (below). This tiered approach will allow work to be phased and account for many of the conditions present within this subset of San Francisco's unique building stock.

For more details about Screening Forms and permitting please visit the Department of Building Inspection's Soft Story website.


Compliance Tiers

Tier I- Any building containing educational, assembly, or residential care facility uses (Building Code Occupancy E, A, R2.1, R3.1, or R4).

Tier II- Any building containing 15 or more dwelling units.

Tier III- Any building not falling within another tier.

Tier IV-  Any building containing ground floor commercial uses (Building Code Occupancy B or M), or any building in a mapped liquefaction zone.