San Francisco | Mandatory Seismic Retrofit Program

Retrofitted building in San Francisco

What is the Mandatory Seismic Retrofit Program?

The Mandatory Soft Story Retrofit Program was established in 2013 to better protect highly vulnerable buildings from collapse during the next major earthquake.
It requires the retrofit of all older and larger, multi-family, wood frame, residential buildings that contain a soft story condition. Buildings in this “soft story condition” exists where the first story is substantially weaker and more flexible than the stories above due to lack of walls or frames.

Typically these buildings have first story perimeter walls with large openings for garage doors or windows and few interior partitions and/or were constructed of materials that have deteriorated over time.

Which types of buildings are included in this?

  • Type V (wood-frame) building as defined in the San Francisco Building Code, 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, as determined by a licensed design professional during the screening process that has not been seismically strengthened to the standards set forth in the ordinance

See our work on a Seismic Retrofit for a Soft Story Apartment Building on Buchanan Street

Are there any Exceptions?

Yes, there are exceptions.
A building will not be required to undergo a Soft-Story Retrofit if:

  • A building that has been seismically strengthened to meet or exceed the standards of Section 1604.11 of San Francisco Building code or its predecessor provisions within the past 15 year prior to the operative date of the Mandatory Seismic Retrofit Program Ordinance can become exempt upon submittal of documentation showing that such work was properly permitted, completed and maintained as required and that the Department has approved such documentation.
  • A building that has completed voluntary seismic strengthening under the provisions of the Administrative Bulletin AB-094 can be found exempt from the requirements of the seismic upgrade program.

Perhaps you’ve received a notice…

In September 2013 notices were issued to building owners using the address for property tax notification. These notices went to all wood frame buildings containing five or more dwelling units, two or more stories and permitted for construction prior to January 1978. These notices required all buildings to go through a screening process which is accomplished by hiring an engineer or architect to prepare and submit a “screening form” that determines if the building requires a seismic upgrade. Any buildings determined to be subject to the ordinance then begins the process of compliance.

Tiers of Compliance

There is a screening program that determines which category a building falls under. There are four “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 except for buildings assigned to Tier I or Tier VI
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.

Below are the scheduled dates for submittal of forms, permit applications and completion of work.

Compliance Tier Submittal of Screening Form Due Date of Permit Application with Plans Completion of Work and Issuance of CFC
I September 15, 2014 September 15, 2015 September 15, 2017
II September 15, 2014 September 15, 2016 September 15, 2018
III September 15, 2014 September 15, 2017 September 15, 2019
IV September 15, 2014 September 15, 2018 September 15, 2020


How safe will my building be post-retrofit?

The Mandatory Soft Story Retrofit Ordinance states that:
“this ordinance required retrofits that will greatly increase the probability of a building being safely occupy-able within 24 hours of an expected moderate earthquake, a measure of performance commonly referred to as “shelter-in-place,” using criteria that limit retrofit costs.”
This moderate earthquake has a magnitude of 7.2 on the Peninsula segment of the San Andreas Fault. For most of the City, the shaking associated with this scenario is expected to occur at least once during the useful life of a structure and more than once if the structure is renovated periodically to extend its useful life.

Where can I find additional information?

Additional questions can be answered by calling the DBI Soft Story Program at 415-558-6699 or emailing

Have more questions?

Let’s schedule an assessment of your building! link to email:
Or you can give us a call at: 415-331-0525

About SteelCore Builders

As a division of Trush Construction Company, the SteelCore Builders crew and management have been doing structural concrete and strengthening since 1987. Due to our firm’s extensive engineering expertise and exceptional reputation, we are often retained to undertake very difficult and complex projects. Our continuous research and testing of new building materials and technologies enable us to address unique situations that other firms cannot.