Building and Safety
Building and Safety

Soft Story Program - Regulations for Potentially Hazardous Buildings Containing Soft, Weak or Open Front Stories

The City of Berkeley requires owners of 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. Owners have until December 31, 2016 to apply for a building permit and two years to complete the work after submitting their permit application. The law took effect January 4, 2014 and applies to wood frame buildings constructed prior to 1978.   

SWOF building owners must also post an earthquake warning sign and notify their tenants of the building's potentially hazardous condition. Under the first phase of the soft story program, starting in 2005, SWOF building owners were required to submit an engineering evaluation report identifying their building's weaknesses and ways to remedy those weaknesses.

Soft story collapse in earthquake 2   

A soft, weak or open front (SWOF) building is a wood-frame building with more than one story that typically has parking, a commercial storefront or other similar open floor spaces on the ground floor. This leads to a relatively soft or weak lateral load resisting system in the lower story and makes the building potentially hazardous in the event of an earthquake. 

Phase II of the Soft Story Program: Mandatory Retrofit Requirements (Effective January, 2014)

Design Professionals

If you are seeking an engineer or contractor, see links below for lists of design professionals. The City of Berkeley makes no representation as to the qualifications of these vendors.

  • Structural Engineer Referral List - maintained by the Structural Engineer's Association of Northern California
  • Roster of Engineers who attended a seminar on guidelines for the preparation of seismic analysis reports required by Phase I of the Soft Story Program, hosted by the City of Berkeley in 2007.
  • Design Professionals - A list of engineers and contractors compiled by the Association of Bay Area Governments
  • Vendor List  Design professionals, contractors, and lenders who participated in the SF Earthquake Retrofit Fair, January 2014.  

Phase I of the Soft Story Program (Adopted in 2005): Engineering Evaluation Report


City Council Reports

*If you believe a property should be added to the inventory of soft, weak or open front buildings, please let the Building and Safety Division know by filling out this form: REQUEST FOR SERVICE-Generic.  Please bear in mind, the ordinance applies only to wood frame buildings with 5 or more dwelling units, constructed prior to 1978. If you have photos of the building, you can email those to

For more information about the Soft Story program, contact the Building and Safety Division, at (510) 981-7451, or


Home | Web Policy | Text-Only Site Map | Contact Us
Building and Safety, 2120 Milvia Street, 1st floor, Berkeley, CA 94704
Questions or comments? Email: Phone: (510) 981-7440
(510) 981-CITY/2489 or 311 from any landline in Berkeley
TTY: (510) 981-6903