2,000 Soft-Story Buildings in Oakland Still Need Earthquake Protection

A law recently passed in Oakland makes it one of several cities that will require property owners to retrofit all soft-story buildings in order to make them safer in the event of an earthquake. Soft-story buildings built before 1991 are those with open first floors, usually for parking.

The 6.4-magnitude earthquake in Kern County on Thursday highlighted the problem facing Oakland residents and landlords — 2,000 buildings are in danger of collapse in Oakland should an earthquake hit before retrofitting takes place.

The law will give landlords four to six years to get the work done and requires retrofitting for all soft-story apartment and office buildings that have more than five units.

Some renters worry that the costs of construction will trickle down to them, ultimately causing rent prices to go up. But City Councilmember Dan Kalb didn’t think renters should worry too much about that.

“Some of that can be passed onto renters but it’s going to be spread out over 25 years. That way the actual monthly rent increase will be very modest,” he said.

“We could have a lot of buildings collapse and that means people will die, or if people don’t die, the buildings will be red-tagged and they’ll have nowhere to live,” Kalb said.

Oakland resident James Green, who said his parents felt the Southern California quake Thursday morning, is among the renters who worry about increasing costs. He said his landlord dropped by recently to examine the foundation of the building.

“They’re in the process of determining what it will take,” he said.

Owners are required to tell their tenants of the retrofitting work and how it will affect them. There will be hefty fines for landlords who do not get their buildings up to code.

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