Interior of a live work loft apartment in Downtown Los Angeles.

Six Years Later: Stakeholders Address LA’s NDC Retrofit Ordinance

Key Takeaways from Omgivning Architecture’s Thinking Beyond the Ordinance, Non-Ductile Concrete Buildings White Paper

The Non-Ductile Concrete (NDC) Ordinance of 2015

In 2015, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed the Non-Ductile Concrete (NDC) Ordinance to mandate retrofits for non-ductile concrete (NDC) and soft-story wood frame buildings — two of the city’s most vulnerable building types.

The law required that buildings which receive a notice to comply complete retrofits within 25 years or face mandatory demolition. The goal was to safeguard human life and public safety in the event of “The Big One”, but the first several years after passage revealed several unforeseen impacts.

These impacts contribute to a relatively low percentage of NDC buildings on track for compliance. As of Q4 2021, six years since passage, only 31% of the NDC buildings in LA (379 total) had completed the three-year compliance goal of submitting a retrofit checklist. Only 11% (134 total) had completed the 10-year compliance goal of submitting evidence of a previous retrofit. Only 3.7% (46 total) have met the 25-year compliance goal of completing construction and obtaining certificates of compliance.

Omgivning Architecture was commissioned to analyze and provide recommendations to address these impacts.

Here are the key takeaways from Omngiving’s 22-page Thinking Beyond the Ordinance, Non-Ductile Concrete White Paper.

Unforeseen Impacts

1. Retrofit Costs

Building owners have found it difficult to secure financing for the retrofits. A sample pool revealed that the seismic retrofit alone ranged from $30-$50 per square foot. Including peripheral costs, the range increases to $50-$100 — an cost range of $2.1M-$6.8M for a 68,000 sq ft building in the historic core. The increased capital costs are not justified by a compensatory increase in market rents.

2. Reduction in Housing Units

Los Angeles currently faces a critical shortage of affordable housing units, contributing to a crisis of homelessness. Retrofit mandates exacerbate the crunch by taking units offline when the city doesn’t have units to spare. Many buildings owned by small-portfolio owners cannot absorb the loss of rent due to retrofit vacancy.

3. Impact of Demolition

Demolition results in a significant release of embodied energy and carbon emissions, while demolition of historic buildings could result in a devastating loss of local culture and heritage. Demolishing a 50,000 square-foot building produces as much as 4,000 tons of waste, with nowhere to dispose of it besides a landfill.

4. Risk to Public Health and Safety if Buildings are Not Strengthened

With few buildings currently undergoing the mandated retrofit, the threat to public safety due to seismic activity persists. Earthquakes are unpredictable. The longer it takes to get underway, the longer the danger persists.


1. Policy Reform

  • DTLA 2040 Plan. Article 9 of the DTLA 2040 Plan makes provisions for incentives to repurpose buildings for housing and other use. These provisions can be adopted for all NDC buildings citywide.
  • Tax and Fee Incentives. The city could incentivize retrofit by offering fee waivers — Linkage Fees, School Fees, etc. — and provide a bulletin notifying building owners of all available tax incentives and funding sources.
  • Tenant Relocation. The city should seek funding sources — potentially in the $1 trillion infrastructure package passed by the Senate — to provide tenant relocation assistance through the existing Tenant Habitability Program (THP).

2. Administrative Reform

  • Project Phasing. Retrofits could be phased to “lock in” the Building Code at the time of plan check and allow building owners to prioritize major structural deficiencies.
  • Appointed NDC Liaison and LADBS Technical Working Group. The liaison can assist architects and building owners through the plan-check process, while the technical working group can help designers present plans to Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) before significant resources have been expended.
  • California Historical Building Code. The CHBC could be used as justifications for flexibility and code interpretations on a case-by-case basis.
  • PDPP Process and City Bulletins. This would prevent long retrofit processes from being derailed due to code changes and declined extensions.
  • LADBS/LAFD Administrative Reform. This could include maintaining consistent personnel, implementing page-turning kickoff meetings, and adopting processes to expedite supplemental permit review and release of records.
  • Request for Modification. Mechanisms to expedite requests for modification (RFM) early in the design process could be implemented, including a provision for third-party review and recommendation of RFMs.

3. Technical Reform

LABDS can implement technical reform by becoming active participants in the regular meetings held by the Structural Engineers Association of Southern California Existing Buildings Committee (SEAOSC EBC) to discuss regulatory and technical requirements.

To read Omgivning’s Thinking Beyond the Ordinance, Non-Ductile Concrete White Paper, download it here.