Financing your Seismic Retrofit? 

5 questions answered at the San Francisco Earthquake Safety Fair


CleanFund | June 18, 2018


SAUSALITO, CA — Summer time in San Francisco is synonymous with free public events and last Wednesday was no exception. Every year the Department of Building Inspection hosts the Earthquake Safety Fair where hundreds of local commercial and multi-family real estate owners, brokers, property managers, and developers pour into the Bill Graham Auditorium looking for solutions to the challenge of upgrading their buildings to meet San Francisco’s stringent mandatory seismic standards. CleanFund participated again this year listening to the challenges owners face to meet the compliance and educating them on how C-PACE can be a financing tool not only for affordable seismic retrofits, but also a way to easily upgrade your building.

Most attendees came full of questions and many were anxious to find a viable way to pay for the needed work. As a prominent financing exhibitor, most came to CleanFund’s table to learn how C-PACE financing worked and what advantages they could gain from working with CleanFund to do their retrofits and other improvement projects.

As we spoke with owners, brokers, developers, managers and more, we quickly identified consistent pain points in the questions that arose. So, for the benefit of those of you who missed out on this summer’s Earthquake Safety Fair, here are the Top 5 Questions we heard and our answers to those questions. We also put together a fun video on the event since there were many interesting exhibits, talks and interactive displays throughout the day. Enjoy!


1. How is C-PACE different than a bank loan?

This is a great starter question. First, C-PACE (Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy) was designed to enable commercial and multi-family owners to finance 100% of the cost of energy efficiency, water conservation and resilience upgrades through a tax assessment that is attached to the property instead of the borrower. When you obtain financing with CleanFund, a new assessment line item is added to your property and you pay the assessment when you pay your property taxes.

So, one advantage is that instead of making a monthly or quarterly payment like you do with a traditional loan, you re-pay the C-PACE assessment over a longer term when you pay your property tax bill.


2. What rates should I expect to see?

Rates differ based on a variety of factors, but CleanFund has an easy to use online quote tool that will give you a quick, indicative quote with simple next steps if you like what you see. Check out CleanQuote at


3. 30 years is a long time; what if I sell?

Because the C-PACE assessment is tied to the property and not the borrower, you are not required to make any additional payments after you sell your property. Instead, the new property owner will continue to make the remaining payments through their property tax payments.


4. What else can be finance? How about ADUs?

Through our C-PACE financing solution, CleanFund can help you finance MANY more value-add improvements.

CleanFund Finances up to 100% of both hard and soft costs for performance-enhancing building projects.


The best way to illustrate the flexibility of C-PACE financing for your property is through an example. CleanFund is currently working with a real estate owner who acquired the circa early 1900’s multi-unit building, which historically operated with commercial tenants. The investment firm fully renovated the property and converted it into a six-unit residential, and three-unit retail property. In order to convert the building to provide six additional dwelling units, the owner needed to first complete mandatory soft-story seismic work and make additional renovations to the interior and exterior. The firm needed a cost-effective way to pay for the improvements and looked to CleanFund’s C-PACE financing to provide 100% of the needed capital to complete the required seismic upgrades, and to bring six additional dwelling units online. 100% of the capital improvement costs are capable of being passed through to the renters (subject to the greater of $30 annually, or 10% of tenant base rent under the SF Rent Board), and with C-PACE financing, 100% of the costs of financing would be passed through to the prospective retail tenants, bringing the building into compliance with seismic code and providing for a cost-effective means of recapturing capex. In general, CleanFund can finance 25%+ of the cost of an ADU (all of the C-PACE-eligible improvements, e.g., windows, LED lighting, insulation, etc.)


5. So pass-through, what’s the latest?

This is an ever-changing issue so CleanFund typically does not give guidance out on pass-through to external parties. It’s very complicated, and we don’t want to be considered as “giving legal advice” to our potential customers. Your best resource is the San Francisco Rent Board website. Here is what is says: For seismic work that is required by law (and other work required by laws enacted after November 14, 2002), 100% of the capital improvement cost may be passed through to the tenants, regardless of the number of units in the property. Such increases are subject to an annual limitation of $30.00 or 10% of the tenant’s petition base rent, whichever is greater. The amortization period for this work is 20 years. There is a separate capital improvement petition form for seismic work and other improvements required by law. To receive a copy of the petition, you can fax it to yourself through our Fax Back system by calling (415) 252-4660 or visit our website at The petition form is also available at our office. The capital improvement passthrough does not become part of the tenant’s base rent and must be discontinued at the end of the applicable amortization period. If the landlord fails to discontinue the passthrough at the proper time, the landlord is liable to the tenant for the overpayments.


Over the past ten years C-PACE has been a great financing solution for energy efficiency projects, however today C-PACE is needed as a financing solution to a critical compliance issue, insurance risk and potential catastrophic problem.


The New York Times recently released a list of ‘high risk high rises’ with 39 of San Francisco’s most prominent buildings being listed. With so many lessons learned from destruction that could have been if natural signs and warnings had not been treated callously, it seems the nation is turning its attention to San Francisco, wondering how the city built on innovation and forward thinking will prepare itself for the next large earthquake. Below is a map from another New York Times article this year titled, San Francisco’s Big Seismic Gamble. This map shows areas where strong ground shaking is expected during an earthquake. At least 100 so-called soft-story buildings that require mandatory retrofitting are noncompliant — and most are in the area of anticipated strong tremors.


If your building is on this map, CleanFund would love the opportunity to talk about how we can help you get started with financing your retrofit to become compliant and protect your property and the lives that inhabit it!

Image from Fuller, Thomas. “At Risk in a Big Quake: 39 of San Francisco’s Top High Rises.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 June 2018


Alice Reeve, Marketing Director, CleanFund

Link to YouTube Video – 

Snowy Day by Middelthon @middelthon
Music provided by Free Music for Vlogs



  1. Fuller, Thomas. “At Risk in a Big Quake: 39 of San Francisco’s Top High Rises.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 June 2018,
  2. “Rent Board.” The Mission of the Rent Board | Rent Board,

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