Mastering Senate Bill 721: California’s Balcony and Deck Inspection Law

Written by Landlord Property Management Magazine on . Posted in Blog

A Comprehensive Guide for Property Managers and Owners

By Paul J. Watrous, President, National Roof Certification and Inspection Association

The revolutionary lyrics of Sam Cooke, “It’s been a long time coming but I know a change is gonna come,” preceded the reforming Civil Rights Act in 1964. Just a few short decades ago, life looked different. Travelers didn’t have to pass through TSA to board a plane, we didn’t have to wear seatbelts, and children didn’t have car seats. Homes are no longer built utilizing lead and asbestos-based products.

Reforming laws are typically passed due to unfortunate and tragic incidents and are in place to better serve the community, promote the safety of its citizens, and protect their most basic inalienable right, life. These things have now become part of everyday life. Many may not think twice about it because we understand and support the greater objective. Sam Cooke’s lyrics still ring true today however, the change is here, and the time is now.

Now, you might be asking what this has to do with California’s Senate Bill 721 (SB 721). In the ever-evolving world, staying informed about the latest legislative developments is essential, especially in the real estate industry. California’s SB 721, commonly known as the Balcony and Deck Inspection Law, has significantly changed the landscape of multi-family investments, property maintenance, and safety. The 2015 tragic incident in Berkeley, California, served as a catalyst for SB 721, and three years later, the bill was enacted in 2018, aiming to take preventative measures in efforts to prevent such incidents from happening again. 

People have the right to life. By ensuring property owners regularly assess and maintain their buildings to promote a safe living environment for their tenants and the public, all Exterior Elevated Elements (EEE) must be periodically inspected and maintained. Initially, changes can sometimes be abrasive and difficult to navigate. But let’s approach this law with the positive mindset that everyone should have the right to life, a safe one at that, without worrying about history repeating itself. This law has far-reaching implications that will only continue to develop over time. 

Naturally, being headquartered in Southern California, this inspection law caught the team’s attention at The National Roof Certification and Inspection Association (NRCIA). Since 1995, the NRCIA has been known for trailblazing the roof inspection industry with best practices and processes. Through research, crafting educational and training courses, and developing tools and resources that target the inspection industry, the NRCIA is committed to promoting safety, transparency, and excellence within the real estate community.

Recognizing the importance of SB 721 compliance, California stakeholders have been inquiring about this training which commenced the development of NRCIA’s newest educational content. “Mastering SB 721: The Comprehensive Guide to California’s Balcony and Deck Safety Law” is designed to assist service providers, property managers, and owners navigate the intricacies of this new law.

After countless hours of combing through the legislation and talking with the parties involved, from building owners to city officials, the NRCIA was able to compile a three-hour course covering the history of SB 721 to understand the law and processes on a deeper level fully. The course comprises modules covering the inspection terminology, requirements, timelines, compliance, procedures, and proper documentation. Upon completion of this course, students will gain insight and sharable knowledge and be equipped to confidently navigate the SB 721 process, adding value to the services they offer. Additional field resources are provided, keeping the course details and the law at your fingertips.

SB 721 represents a significant step forward in ensuring the structural integrity and safety of exterior elevated elements in multifamily buildings throughout California. Property managers and owners must be well-informed and prepared to comply with this law. NRCIA’s course, “Mastering SB 721,” is a valuable resource for staying ahead in this evolving landscape. By prioritizing safety and compliance, property managers and owners can protect their real estate investments and the well-being of both their tenants and the public. 

Berlin, in South Orange County, points out the stereotypical landlord mindset: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Breaking long-time habits or strategies can be challenging, especially when it consumes more time, expertise, professional services, and financial resources. After the initial inspection cycles, this law will subsequently edify the property owner’s mindset, shifting from reactive repairs to preventative maintenance, ultimately creating a better life for their tenants. 

As with most changes, friction can occur, and SB 721 is no different. Beyond the initial frustration of another landlord requirement, locating a qualified industry professional to perform these inspections is the first challenge. Only firms who are licensed in California as an architect, engineer, or contractor (“A,” “B,” or “C-5,” who has at least five years’ experience in constructing multistory buildings) or a building inspector affiliated with a recognized association are allowed to perform these inspections.

Due to the additional expectations on inspectors, only a limited number of qualified individuals will offer the inspection service. As we get closer to the January 1, 2025, deadline, these certified inspectors will be overwhelmed with the large number of inspection requests, and finding an available inspector will be a challenge. Most qualified individuals we questioned choose to forego offering the inspections and only perform the more lucrative restorative work.

Bridging the gap from the inspector to the contractor lies another speed bump that could cause delays, which is the financial component. With the typical mindset of “if it aint broke, don’t fit it,” routine preventative maintenance repairs often get deferred, resulting in more extensive and expensive resolutions. Once the initial SB 721 inspection report is delivered, the required restorative repairs need to be determined by a licensed contractor to become SB 721 compliant.

Depending on the condition of the Exterior Elevated Elements (EEE), the extent of the scope of work may put unexpected financial stress on the building owner. After receiving the report, the law permits 120 days to obtain proposals and to pull a building permit; then the restorative work must be completed within 120 days from permit issuance. Scheduling inspections early and utilizing the timeframes properly will allow landlords to budget their time and gather funds for these required repairs before the January 1, 2025, deadline. 

With anything required by law, there are consequences for non-compliance. There are a lot of intricacies to this law, and it is important that building owners or their designated agent consults a trained and certified inspector to perform these mandated inspections to get SB 721 compliant before 1/1/2025. Fines can range from $100-$500 per day until the repairs are completed. In addition, a building safety lien can be filed on the property with associated costs incurred. Complying with SB 721 law may assist in preventing personal injuries and potential lawsuits.  

Ultimately the implementation of the CA SB 721 law and knowing how to navigate the process efficiently will elevate the demand for professional property management and inspection services.For more information about NRCIA’s “Mastering SB 721” course and how it can benefit your property management efforts, visit GoSB721.com/pmo. Stay ahead, stay safe, and stay SB 721 compliant for a brighter future in California’s multifamily housing sector. 

Paul J. Watrous is president of the National Roof Certification and Inspection Association. As a fourth generation in a family of builders specializing in roof systems, he has completed more than 12,500 inspections. He has assisted in developing educational courses, exams, and web-based reporting software to share knowledge and tools to promote transparency and expertise in the inspection industry.  For more information, contact: Paul Watrous, Paul@nrcia.org.