The aim of this paper is to adjust behaviour models for each class of structure for vulnerability assessment by using ambient vibration. A simple model based on frequencies, mode shapes and damping, taken from ambient vibrations, allows computation of the response of the structures and comparison of inter-storey drifts with the limits found in the literature for the slight damage grade, considered here as the limit of elastic behaviour. Two complete methodologies for building fragility curves are proposed: (1) using a multi-degree of freedom system including higher modes and full seismic ground-motion and (2) using a single-degree of freedom model considering the fundamental mode f0 of the structure and ground-motion displacement response spectra SD(f0). These two methods were applied to the city of Grenoble, where 60 buildings were studied. Fragility curves for slight damage were derived for the various masonry and reinforced concrete classes of buildings. A site-specific earthquake scenario, taking into account local site conditions, was considered, corresponding to an ML = 5.5 earthquake at a distance of 15 km. The results show the benefits of using experimental models to reduce variability of the slight damage fragility curve. Moreover, by introducing the experimental modal model of the buildings, it is possible to improve seismic risk assessment at an overall scale (the city) or a local scale (the building) for the first damage grade (slight damage). This level of damage, of great interest for moderate seismic-prone regions, may contribute to the seismic loss assessment. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.