Changes made to earthquake code are not retroactive, so it’s really important to know when your building went up — it’s the starting point in your quest.
At the most basic level, knowing how long the building has been standing tells you how many earthquakes it has survived. Of course, quakes throughout the years have been of varying strengths and different eras required different building codes. Buildings that went up after the 1994 Northridge quake, for example, had much more stringent requirements. That said, many older buildings have been retrofitted. That leads us to our next question.
Some Southern California cities, including Santa Monica, have passed mandatory retrofitting ordinances. If you live there, you can use this tool to see if your building is a “soft-story” building or a concrete frame one — and if it requires a retrofit. If it has undergone a retrofit, ask your landlord what the retrofit entailed and if you can see the documentation. If the building has not been retrofitted and was built before 1994 (the year of the Northridge quake), ask the landlord when they plan to do so.
Some of SoCal’s structures are built on hills or slopes. And oh what a view! But sometimes those buildings come with foundational issues. A structural engineer can verify whether that’s the case. Some property owners forgo this part of the inspection when buying the building because it saves money. Ask the person in charge of your building if an inspection was conducted and what the results were. If there were foundation issues, what where they and what did they do to fix them? If you don’t get an suitable answer you can sometimes find that information yourself in the sales record for the building on websites like Zillow, Redfin, or Trulia.
National Guard soldiers are posted in front of the Northridge Meadows apartments one week after 16 people died during an earthquake on Jan. 17, 1994. Residents were allowed to enter the condemned building for 15 minutes at a time to collect personel effects. (Hal Garb/AFP/Getty Images)
Ever hear the term liquefaction? It is basically when the ground turns to quicksand after an earthquake. We created a tool for you that shows whether your building is in a liquefaction zone. Find out here.
Fault lines in L.A. are more common than celebrities and traffic jams. You just can’t see them. You probably live on top of one or near one. Not all of them are capable of producing a large earthquake, but it’s good to know where you stand — so to speak. Learn more about individual faults here.
If your building suffered damage in a fire, earthquake or another disaster, it may be more vulnerable when the big one hits. Find out if the owners made necessary repairs after the last big disaster.
Your building must certain requirements at all times in order to be considered habitable. Here’s a comprehensive list from Cal Tenant Law. Make sure the following things work:
- Hot and cold running water
- Plumbing and a functioning toilet
- Heating and air conditioning
- Appliances like stove and refrigerator
- Undamaged flooring, ceilings and walls
- No infestations
“One of the basic tenets of being a landlord is that your unit has to be habitable,” said Yazmin Guzman of the Housing Rights Center. “So, if the unit is not considered habitable for living then they are not able to collect rent.” Before you decide to withhold rent, document the damage.
If there’s property damage after a disaster you need to report it. Get ready now. Make sure that you have a direct contact for your landlord and building owner and ask who would serve as a backup contact if you aren’t able to get a hold of them. Keep copies of all the communications you have with your landlord and building owner.
Blanket homeowners insurance is NOT the same as earthquake insurance or fire insurance. Knowing about your landlord’s insurance policy will give you a sense of your situation after a big earthquake. If your landlord has the coverage, you might have a building to go back to at some point. If they don’t...*shrug.* Also ask them if they plan to provide alternate housing for you if the building is severely damaged. But, it isn’t just on them. Even as a renter you can buy earthquake insurance.
You need to know how to shut off the gas because there’s a huge danger of fires after the earthquake. Some units have automatic shut off valves that will do the work for you after an earthquake but you won't know until you ask. Ask if the gas has an automatic shut off valve or if it is manual and then ask where the valve. If they don’t know — this is what you are looking for.
More from The Big One
Listen to Episodes of The Big One
This is what you need to know to survive.
When The Big One Strikes, People Of Color Will Be Hit The Hardest
It turns out natural disasters don't just reveal inequality; they actually make it worse.
How To Not Get Life-Threatening Diarrhea After A Major Earthquake
L.A. could be under a "boil water warning" for more than a year after a major earthquake. What if there's no way to boil your water? Bleach. Read our guide.
The Big One Is Coming To Southern California. This Is Your Survival Guide
A major earthquake is going to hit along the southern San Andreas fault. We don't know when, but we know what happens next. Here's what we've learned to help you survive.
For Earthquakes, Forget The 'Go-Bag.' Here's How To Prepare
You'll need more than a bag. Start by printing out this document and placing water all over your house.