Can A Building Permit Protect Me?

YES!  But Only If You Follow One of The Seismic Retrofit Guidelines Such As Standard Plan A, Appendix Chapter A3 of The California Existing Building Code, Los Angeles’ Standard Plan Number 1, and the brand new FEMA P-1100.  There is a guideline published by Simpson StrongTie that is almost identical to Appendix Chapter A3 except it mentions the hardware by name.  This makes it easier to apply but it must be remembered they are trying to sell hardware.

FEMA P-1100 was recently published (I mean RECENTLY Published) that provides a lot of things the other guidelines do not provide.


Otherwise, It Is Buyer Beware For “Voluntary Seismic Upgrades”

There is no special licensing for retrofit contractors and no special training for building inspectors.  The industry is completely unregulated.  For voluntary seismic upgrades Building departments do not review plans to see if the work will improve earthquake resistance.  From their point of view if you want to put in shiny hardware that may or may not help the house resist earthquakes it is not their place to stop you.  It is your house and you can do whatever you want to because there is no code for them to enforce.

Building departments do not even allow the words “Seismic Retrofit” to be mentioned on voluntary seismic upgrade the plans.  At the most one can say, “voluntary seismic upgrade”, and some cities, such as San Francisco, won’t even allow that.  All you can write on the permit is install plywood and shiny hardware and they don’t even want you to provide plans.  San Francisco does not even require plans.  From their point of view why give them plans to look at when there is no code to evaluate the plans with?  It is a waste of their time.

There are no protections for homeowners to ensure they get a retrofit that will work unless they follow an approved plan it says so on the permit.  At that point the building departent is liable and the inspectors are much more likely to crawl under the house and inspect.

When You Sell Your Home

The only time the permit issue comes up is upon time of sale.  You must disclose all work done without a permit.  The best thing for you to have is a signed off permit that says the work was done according to one of the standards mentioned earlier.

In short, stay away from voluntary seismic retrofits and follow a standard or use an experienced engineer who  understands wood frame retrofitting.  That is the only way you will ever know what you are getting for your money.