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San Francisco's Soft Story Program: Everything You Need to Know

Life in San Francisco can be quite wonderful. From breathtaking views to incredible restaurants and attractions, San Francisco has a lot to offer. It's also a city known for its earthquakes, however, which makes protecting your real estate investments of the utmost importance. If you own a building or home in San Francisco, you may have heard about the San Francisco Mandatory Soft Story Program. This program is designed to ensure that your buildings are as safe as possible and that minimal damage will occur in the event of an earthquake. Retrofitting older buildings and those with a soft story design will ensure that should a natural disaster occur, the building will be structurally durable.

What is a soft story? A "soft" story is a floor of a building that is not as "stiff" or sturdy as the other floors. Typically, this type of floor is seen in multi-level buildings with at least three separate floors. Buildings that have large doors, wide open spaces, or multi-level windows are typically considered to be soft story buildings. The technical definition of a "soft" story is a floor that has 70% of the stiffness of the story directly above it. Another measurement considered is an average of the three floors above the story in question. If the floor is less than 80% of the average of the upper three stories, it is considered to be a soft story and a candidate for the MSSP.

Why are soft stories a concern? It's no secret that San Francisco's unique architecture is a drawing point for investors and businesses across the country; however, soft stories are also more likely to be damaged during earthquakes. For example, in 1989, a large earthquake struck Northern California and caused catastrophic damage throughout the state. Half of the homes that were damaged and deemed unlivable featured soft story designs.

What is the Mandatory Soft Story Retrofit Program? As a city-wide safety measure, San Francisco's city government designed a program to ensure that soft story buildings within the city can become stronger, more durable, and more likely to survive an earthquake. This program ensures that buildings affected by a soft story construction style can be seismically strengthened in order to prevent collapse and structural damage.

What is the cost? The investment price for a soft story retrofit will vary based on the size, age, and design of the building; however, keep in mind that the cost to retrofit a building is generally far less than a structural repair after an earthquake would be. Typically, retrofits take between six to ten weeks to complete. It's also important to remember that while additions and modifications to buildings may typically be reflected on your yearly property tax bill, additions designed to seismically strengthen a building are eligible for an exclusion. Whether you own one building or five, it's important to ensure that your buildings are in the best possible condition and that they meet the requirements of the MSSP. This program is designed to protect both you and your investment by ensuring that your buildings are as safe and sturdy as possible.

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