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Building and Safety Division
Building and Safety Division

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 were required to apply for a building permit by December 31, 2016 and have 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.   

Read about our new Retrofit Grants available for owners of soft story buildings.

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   

What is a Soft, Weak or Open Front Building?  

A multi-story wood-frame building in which the first floor has large openings in places where a shear wall would normally be required for stability as a matter of earthquake engineering design. SWOF buildings typically have parking or a commercial storefront on the ground floor, leading to a relatively soft or weak lateral load resisting system in the lower story, which makes the building potentially hazardous in the event of an earthquake.   

Soft Story Irregularity  

Weak Story Irregularity  

Where a level is less than 70% as stiff as the floor above it or less than 80% as stiff as the average stiffness of the three floors above.

Where a level has less than 80% of the lateral strength as the floor above it.

Mandatory Retrofit Requirements

Complying with the Program


  • Learn about the PACE program, a new financing option for seismic retrofits now available in Berkeley.

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. For additional guidance, visit Hiring Design Professionals and Contractors.

  • Structural Engineer Referral List - maintained by the Structural Engineer's Association of Northern California. To use this search, click on Project type to reveal a drop-down menu, then select multi-unit residential. Do not enter Berkeley as the name of the city, or the search will only provide engineers located in Berkeley. If the city is left blank, the search will generate a list of all engineers in the Bay area with experience with design for multi-unit residential buildings.
  • Engineers who attended the 2017 Soft Story Summit hosted by the Structural Engineer's Association of Northern California.
  • SF Earthquake Safety Fair 2018 Vendor List, the 2017 Vendor List, the 2016 Vendor List, the 2014 Vendor List: Design professionals, contractors and lenders who participated in Earthquake Safety Fairs hosted by the City of San Francisco.

For more information regarding Phase I of the Soft Story Program, Council adoption of the program and presentations about soft story buildings, please see Additional Information Regarding the Soft Story Program.

*If you believe a property should be added to the inventory of soft, weak or open front buildings, please email If you have photos of the building, you can include those in your email. Please bear in mind, the ordinance applies only to wood frame buildings with 5 or more dwelling units, constructed prior to 1978.

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


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