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New Law Requires Inspection of Decks and Balconies For Buildings With Three or More Multifamily Dwelling Units

By David Hamerslough

October 10, 2018

photo of attorney David Hamerslough

Starting January 1, 2019 a new law (SB 721/Health and Safety Code 17973 et seq.) will require property owners of buildings containing three or more multifamily units to conduct an inspection of the decks, balconies, and other components more than six feet above ground level. The inspection must be completed by January 1, 2025 and will require subsequent inspections by January 1st of every six years thereafter.

The purpose of the inspection is to determine whether the decks, balconies, and exterior elevated elements and their associated water proofing elements are in a generally safe condition, adequate working order, and free from any hazardous condition caused by fungus, deterioration, decay or improper alteration.

The inspection must be performed by licensed architect, licensed civil or structural engineer, a qualified building contractor, or by an individual certified as a building inspector or building official from a recognized state, national, or international association. The inspector cannot be employed by the local governmental agency that has jurisdiction over the building.

The inspection report must be in writing and provided to the owner within specified time frames. The report must assess: 1) the current condition of the decks, balconies, and exterior elevated elements; 2) the expectation of future performance and projected service life; 3) recommendations for any further inspections and/or repairs that may be necessary; 4) whether the deck, balcony or exterior elevated element constitute a threat to the health or safety of the occupants; and 5) an assessment of the load bearing components and associated water proofing elements. The report must include photographs, test results, and a narrative sufficient to establish a baseline of the condition of the components inspected that can be compared to the results of subsequent inspections.

Subsequent inspection reports shall incorporate copies of prior inspection reports, including location of decks, balconies and exterior elevated elements that were inspected.

A deck, balcony or exterior elevated element found by the inspector to be in need of repair or replacement must be corrected by the owner of the building. The repairs cannot be performed by the licensed contractor who served as the inspector. All necessary permits for repair or replacement must be obtained from the local government agency and all repairs or replacement work must be performed by qualified and licensed contractors in compliance with manufacturer’s specifications and California building codes. The law sets forth timelines for the completion of the report, delivery to the owner, and completion of any repairs or replacement. The timelines are shorter where immediate repairs are necessary or the building poses an immediate threat to the safety of the occupants. Fines, penalties, and/or liens on the property can be imposed for non-compliance with the law.

This law was passed in response to the balcony collapse that occurred in an apartment building in Berkeley in June of 2015. The balcony had significant dry rot that was alleged to be caused by failures in the waterproofing system of the building. For those of you that are listing, selling, or managing multifamily dwellings, such as triplexes, fourplexes, or larger apartment buildings, the following are some issues to consider:

  1. While the inspection and any repairs are not a point of sale requirement, copies of all inspection reports must be maintained in the building owner’s records for not less than two inspection cycles and must be disclosed and delivered to a buyer at the time of any subsequent sale;
  2. Owners will have to determine what components of the building may be covered by this law and budget for not only the cost of the inspection, but any necessary repairs or replacement;
  3. Given the safety reasons behind this law and the exposure that inspectors and/or contractors may face, it may be difficult to find qualified individuals willing to undertake the duties and responsibilities of conducting the inspections and creating the necessary report and/or who have proper insurance coverage to perform this activity;
  4. These same factors may require that an owner budget more money for repairs or replacement of the decks and balconies or at least be more proactive in terms of conducting routine inspections and maintenance;
  5. This law does not apply to a common interest development as defined in Section 4100 of the Civil Code;
  6. Any local jurisdiction may enact ordinances or laws imposing requirements greater than those created by this state law; and
  7. Civil Code Section 1954 has been amended in conjunction with the passing of this law to provide for a right of access and inspection on the part of any landlord and/owner in order to comply this law.

This article is a general overview of this new law. There are additional details and requirements that are part of this law so the law should be reviewed, along with any local ordinance, in the event that the building that you are listing, selling, or managing is subject to its provisions.