Finding L.A. buildings with quake risk a challenge, official says

Soft story collapse
Crushed vehicles at the Northridge Meadows apartment complex on Jan. 17, 1994, the day of the Northridge earthquake. Sixteen residents were killed in the magnitude 6.7 temblor. (Roland Otero / Los Angeles Times / January 17, 1994)
By Rosanna Xia, LA TIMES
 Los Angeles city building officials have concluded that inspectors would most likely have to visit all of the city’s 29,000 older apartment buildings to determine which ones have a certain type of wood frame that is particularly vulnerable to collapse during a major earthquake.

City staffers are developing a plan to winnow out these so-called “soft” story wood-frame buildings among the 29,000 apartment buildings across the city that were built before 1978, Ifa Kashefi, chief of the engineering bureau at the building and safety department, told a group of structural engineers and stakeholders at the annual Buildings at Risk conference.

Officials have long known about the risk of soft-story buildings, particularly after the Northridge earthquake in 1994, when about 200 of these structures were seriously damaged or destroyed, and 16 people died in the Northridge Meadows apartment complex.

Soft-story structures often are built over carports and held up with slender columns, leaving the upper floors to crash into ground-floor apartments during shaking. No city data exist to easily identify which structures are wood-framed and are soft-story, Kashefi said.

The city’s housing department was able to provide addresses to the 29,000 apartment buildings in the city built before 1978, Kashefi said, and city inspectors would need to go to each address and determine whether a building should be included in this inventory.

A motion, introduced in July by City Councilman Tom LaBonge, asks building officials to present a proposal for how the city would be able to identify wood-frame soft-story residential buildings with at least two stories and at least five units and built before 1978.

“We have a choice. We can either be prepared, or not be prepared,” said LaBonge, who was also on Tuesday’s panel. “It’s about our safety.”

LaBonge’s motion came after San Francisco passed a landmark earthquake safety ordinance this year that requires about 3,000 wooden apartment buildings to be strengthened there. LaBonge said he expected a report from L.A.’s building and safety agency sometime in November.

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The Dangers Of Non-Disclosure

If you’re trying to sell your house, you probably already know that you must, by law, disclose any problems associated with the property.  However, some sellers have a tendency to think that not pointing out the flaws in their home will bring them more money on the sale of their home.  And that may be true; however, there are many problems that could arise later on down the line due to non-disclosure of your homes past and present issues.

Non-disclosure lawsuits are on the rise.   Once upon a time it was a “buyer beware” market but not anymore.  Ask any realtor and they will tell you that non-disclosure ranks as one of their three biggest problems during the sale and after the sale.

Especially if the seller has made concentrated efforts to cover up the problematic issues.   Another thing to make note of is that after you have completed a repair, it must be documented.  If you complete a repair and it’s not documented, and issues arise down the road, you could still be held liable.

A seller must disclose anything that could affect the property’s value.  Things such as foundation problems, etc. and in some states you must also disclose any risk of natural disasters such as the home being in a flood plain or if there is a high risk of earthquakes.   Additionally, some states also require that you disclose neighborhood nuisances like a barking dog or any other type of noise nuisance.   The non-disclosure rule applies to everyone.  Even if you sell your house “as is” you still have to abide by the non-disclosure laws of your state.   Below are a list of items that should be included in your property disclosure report.  Some of these may vary from state to state.

• Completed repairs or repairs you were made aware of by the previous owners

• Past or present termite issues

• Any past or present water damage or moisture issues

• Mold

• Lead

• Natural hazards such as the risk of flooding, earthquakes and wildfires

• Past history that includes a notorious haunting or horrific events such as a murder, etc.

• A historical designation that limits remodeling

• Special zoning

• Environmental issues

When in doubt you should disclose.  However, just because you disclosed an issue, doesn’t necessarily mean you are obligated to fix the issue.  You can negotiate the repairs with the buyer as terms of the contract.  Or you could just include an “as is” clause in the contract for the repairs in question.

Talk to your realtor about everything in your home that needs to be disclosed.  Don’t ever keep information from your realtor.  He is there to help you.  Not disclosing important issues is serious business and could land you in a lawsuit later.  You will then have to pay for the repairs anyway.  So do yourself a favor and save everyone the time and trouble and be diligent about what your buyer needs to know.