Are You Ready for Required Inspections of Balconies and Exterior Elevated Elements?
California’s Senate Bill 721 (SB721) and Senate Bill 326 (SB326) Mandate Compliance by Statutory Deadlines
By Omid Ghanadiof, EEEAdvisor Engineering
Get ready! January 1, 2025 is the deadline for compliance with both Senate Bills 721 and 326 for multifamily rental properties and condominiums that contain three or more dwelling units. Applicable residential property owners and homeowners’ associations (HOAs) throughout California must have inspections of balconies and exterior elevated elements at their properties. Property owners and manages, and HOAs should seek the help they need before the deadline and become familiar with the inspection criteria to ensure they are in compliance with the so-called “California Balcony Inspection Laws.”
What Must Be Inspected? Exterior Elevated Elements (EEEs)
These two state laws are designed for buildings that contain three or more dwelling units. Senate Bill 326 is for condominiums, and Senate Bill 721 is for apartment buildings. The laws emerged following a balcony collapse in the City of Berkeley, which then established a local balcony inspection ordinance, and many of the local ordinance’s provisions have been incorporated into state law. Accordingly, required inspections must be made to any elevated element structures. Exterior Elevated Elements are building elements that are constructed of wood, have a walking surface, have any portion sitting 6-feet above the ground, and that extend outside of the four walls of a structure. Exterior Elevated Elements include balconies, outside decks, porches, exterior stairways, and exterior walkways that have a walking surface that is elevated more than six feet above ground level according to these ordinances. Required inspection includes waterproofing system supports and railings, and load bearing component.
Under Senate Bill 721, load-bearing components are “those components that extend beyond the exterior walls of the building to deliver structural loads from the exterior elevated element (EEE) to the building.” Senate Bill 326 gives a more descriptive definition of “load-bearing components” as components that extend beyond the exterior walls of the building to deliver structural loads to the building from decks, balconies, stairways, walkways, and their railings, all designed for human occupancy or use, supported in whole or in substantial part by wood or wood-based products, and associated waterproofing systems including flashings, membranes, coatings, and sealants that protect the load-bearing components of Exterior Elevated Elements from exposure to water.
Visual Inspection Compliance
Under Senate Bill 721, the minimum requirements for inspection include “identification of each type of exterior elevated element that, if found to be defective, decayed, or deteriorated to the extent that it does not meet its load requirements, would, in the opinion of the inspector, constitute a threat to the health or safety of the occupants.” Senate Bill 326; however, defines visual inspection as “inspection through the least intrusive method necessary to inspect load-bearing components, including visual observation only or visual observation in conjunction with, for example, the use of moisture meters, borescopes, or infrared technology.” One of the major challenges with visual inspection compliance is understanding the terms, especially visual inspection, as it is required by the law, which is where the team at 3EAdvisor Engineering can assist you.
Inspectors will provide a written report that lists the components that have been checked and that describes their condition, including estimates of the components’ remaining functional life, any necessary repairs, and a report on any immediate dangers to occupants. The Senate Bill 326 report will be incorporated into the HOAs’ next reserve study, and HOAs will be required to keep the reports for at least two inspection cycles, that is, up to 18 years.
If the inspector in the Senate Bill 326 or 721 report identifies any issues that require repairs to be made, but the property owner or HOA board member decides not to address the issue, an inspector is then required to notify the local jurisdiction about the condition. Moreover, if a building element fails and someone is injured as a result, there could be severe liability for any property owner or any HOA and HOA board member.
The distinctions between the required inspection cycles under Senate Bill 721 and Senate Bill 326 are striking. The timeframe under Senate Bill 326 is at least once every nine years, except for new common interest buildings. But, under Senate Bill 721, subsequent inspections need to be completed by January 1st every six years following the initial inspection. In addition, Senate Bill 326 does not specify any fines; however, the inspection report is incorporated into the HOA’s reserve study and it will likely be subject to the same penalties as failure to comply with the Davis-Stirling Act. Local enforcement agencies have the ability to collect enforcement expenditures, according to each of Senate Bills 721 and 326.
Sample Size of Inspections
Described as “the biggest divergence between the law meant for apartments and the law meant for condominiums, sample size for inspection under Senate Bill 721 is just 15% of each type of Exterior Elevated Element shall be inspected. Under Senate Bill 326; however, sample size is a bit more elaborate. Senate Bill 326 requires any inspection to include “a sufficient number of units inspected to provide 95% confidence that the results from the sample are reflective of the whole, with a margin of error of no greater than plus or minus five percent.”
Understanding the terms of each of these state laws and subsequently ensuring compliance can sometimes be a daunting task, especially for inexperienced engineers and contractors, let alone property owners and managers or members of an HOA board. Consequently, it is imperative that you hire only experienced professionals to ensure safety and of course, compliance with these very complicated laws. 3Eadvisor Engineering has the knowledge and experience you need to ensure your inspections are completed in accordance with the law, and also to ensure safety of your residents and to reduce your risk of liability.
Omid Ghanadiof is a co-founder of 3Eadvisor Engineering, a specialized engineering structural inspection firm active located in Southern California. 3Eadvisor Engineering assists rental property owners and homeowners associations (HOAs) with compliance with state mandated balcony inspections per Senate Bills 721 and 326. 3Eadvisor Engineering is a leading engineering inspection company that assists clients in meeting the January 1, 2025 deadline for compliance with Senate Bills 721 and 326. For more information, contact Mr. Ghanadiof at (805) 312-8513 or info@EEEadvisor.com.