Mandatory Earthquake Retrofit Programs
Berkeley requires owners of certain building types to retrofit their property to make them safer in case of an earthquake.
If you own an unreinforced masonry or soft story building with 5 or more units in Berkeley, you are required to retrofit your property to make it safer in case of an earthquake. You can get support with paying for these improvements through seismic retrofit financing programs.
Unreinforced masonry buildings
The City of Berkeley has notified owners of unreinforced masonry (URM) buildings that they are required to retrofit their property, per Berkeley Municipal Code 19.38. Of the 587 properties originally notified, only a handful remain that still need to retrofit. Periodically new buildings are added to the URM inventory when they come to staff’s attention due to a permit application, tenant inquiry, or staff review. View the current list of unreinforced masonry buildings in Berkeley.
Unreinforced masonry buildings are generally older brick buildings constructed prior to modern earthquake design, where the brick is not reinforced with embedded steel bars. In earthquakes, the brick walls, especially parapets, tend to disconnect from the building and fall outward, creating a hazard for people below and sometimes causing the building to collapse.
Chapter 19.38 of the Berkeley Municipal Code defines a potentially hazardous unreinforced masonry (URM) building as:
- A building which was constructed prior to 1956, with masonry bearing walls containing seismic reinforcement at a level less than the minimum prescribed in the City of Berkeley "Standards for the Seismic Analysis of Unreinforced Masonry Buildings," and is approved for commercial or mixed use occupancy, or contains five or more living units; OR
- A building which is located on a street in a high pedestrian traffic corridor and contains at least one brick in-fill wall; OR
- Has a brick veneer ten feet in height or greater (measured from the adjoining grade); OR
- Has an unreinforced parapet that exceeds a one and one-half height/depth ratio.
If you are the owner of an unreinforced masonry building, take the steps below to retrofit your property:
- Learn about seismic financing programs
- Hire a design professional to prepare plans and obtain necessary permits
- Hire a contractor to complete the seismic retrofit
- Obtain an approved Final inspection
Please see BMC 19.38 for detailed requirements regarding retrofit or removal of your unreinforced masonry (URM) building from the Inventory of Potentially Hazardous Buildings.
Soft, weak, or open front (SWOF) buildings
The City of Berkeley requires owners of soft, weak or open front (SWOF) buildings with five or more dwelling units to retrofit their buildings per Berkeley Municipal Code Chapter 19.39. The City of Berkeley has notified owners of SWOF buildings that they are required to retrofit their property.
Periodically new buildings are added to the “soft story inventory” when they come to staff’s attention due to a permit application, tenant inquiry, or staff review. View the current list of soft, weak, or open front buildings in Berkeley.
Soft, weak, or open front (SWOF) buildings are multi-story wood-frame buildings where the first floor has large openings in places where a shear wall would normally be required for stability. These buildings typically have parking or a commercial storefront on the ground floor.
The City requires retrofitting for buildings that meet the criteria below:
- soft, weak, or open front wood-frame residential buildings
- five or more residential units
- permitted for construction prior to 1978
If you are the owner of a soft, weak, or open front building, take the steps below to comply with the City’s requirements:
- Notify prospective tenants that your building is potentially hazardous in an earthquake
- Learn about seismic financing programs
- Hire a design professional to prepare plans and obtain permits
- Complete the retrofit construction
Design professionals should follow the framework guidelines to comply with Berkeley’s requirements.
Hiring design professionals
The City of Berkeley cannot recommend any specific design professionals. View the Licensed Contractors and Design Professionals page for guidance, and use the links below as resources.
- Structural Engineer Referral List: Look under residential retrofit
- Engineers who attended the Soft-Story Summit 2017
SF Earthquake Fair: Look at the exhibitor listing for contractors and design professionals