What is SB 721?

SB 721 or The Balcony Inspection Bill, is a state law that requires an inspection of exterior elevated wood elements, such as decks and balconies, for multi-family properties with 3+ units or more. This Bill came about after the 2015 balcony failure in Berkeley, California, which killed six people. Failure was later determined to be due to poor waterproofing, which caused dry rot and failure of the wood components.

The SB 721 deadline is approaching for inspections, and this article should help property owners and managers figure out what they need to accomplish by 2025. The main focus of this article is on multi-unit apartment buildings, but this information could also be helpful for condo owners or HOAs as well. (SB 726)

What Buildings Are Affected by SB 721?

The law states that all buildings in California that have 3+ units or more multifamily dwelling units are required to have their exterior elevated elements inspected. This means any triplexes, quad or fourplexes and larger apartment buildings (including mixed-use properties) are affected.

When is an Inspection Required?

The first inspection must be completed by January 1, 2025, with further inspections every six years. An inspection is also required before the close of escrow on any condo conversions.

Who Can Perform Inspections?

SB 721 Apartments

There are four professionals who can perform SB 721 Exterior Elevated Element inspections:

  • Licensed Architect
  • Licensed Civil or Structural Engineer
  • Licensed Contractor (A, B, or C-5) with at least 5 years of experience constructing multistory wood frame buildings
  • Certified Building Inspector – (the property’s local jurisdiction will determine the certifications that satisfy this requirement.) 

What Must the Inspection Cover?

The inspection required by law must include the following:

  • Identification of each exterior elevated element or associated waterproofing elements, 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 safety of the occupants.
  • “Associated waterproofing elements” are defined to mean flashings, membranes, coatings, and sealants that protect the load-bearing components of exterior elevated elements from exposure to water and the elements.
  • Assessments of elevated elements using methods allowing for evaluation of their performance by direct visual examination or comparable means of evaluating their performance. For purposes of this section, a sample of at least 15 percent of each type of exterior elevated element shall be inspected.

The evaluation / assessment must address the following:

  • The current condition of the exterior elevated elements
  • Expectations of future performance and projected service life
  • Recommendations of any further inspection necessary
  • Recommendations of any necessary repair or replacement

What If You Do Not Pass?

If the property does not pass, the owner is required to repair the issues within eight months. If the inspector requires immediate repairs, the owner must address this immediately. This is a state-mandated local program, so local cities are the ones to enforce it.

This law grants AHJ the authority to give civil penalties and pursue building safety liens. The Bill clearly states that property owners are responsible for this entire process. Inspectors are required to follow-up on repairs and report to local jurisdiction if they are not completed in a timely manner. 

What is the Timeline for the Property Owner, 

Manager or HOA to Have Repairs Completed?

Three things can occur when the inspection is completed, and the inspector turns the report in to the building owner, manager or HOA:

 

A: No repairs are needed.

B: There are issues and repairs are needed but there are no immediate safety concerns.

C: There are issues identified and pose an immediate threat to safety of occupants or that 

      emergency repairs (including shoring) is necessary.

FOR SB 721 APARTMENTS

Occurrence B:  The building owner needs to apply for the repair permits within 120 days or four months after they have received the inspection report. When the permit is approved, they have 120 days to complete the work. The city or county building department can grant extensions.

Occurrence C:  SB 721 requires the inspector to send a copy of the inspection report to the property’s local enforcement agency within 15 days. From there, it is likely the agency will declare the building(s) that have the major issues to be substandard building and then send the owner notice to abate the safety problems, which will include the time frames.

What Penalties Does an Apartment 

Owner Get for Not Doing Repairs?

When the inspector gives the final report that says there is a need for corrective repairs, the owner is responsible for performing the repairs. If the owner does not begin the repair process in 180 days, the inspector is required to notify the city/county’s building code enforcement agency and the building owner. 

This notice puts the owner on a 30-day timeline to complete the repairs. If the local enforcement agency does not grant an extension, after 30 days, the owner gets a civil penalty between $100 to $500 per day until repairs are complete. This penalty can be in the form of a building safety lien on the property.

Are There Penalties for Not Doing the Inspection?

SB 721 does not list specific monetary penalties or enforcement procedures on owners who do not comply with inspections before the deadline. This means that the local jurisdictions (city, county) in California have the freedom to set their own civil penalty guidelines and procedures for multifamily properties that do not comply with having their property inspected.

Why Property Owners Should Act Now!

Inspections take time; finding the right company for the corrective work takes time and getting an appointment takes time. The last thing a property owner should do is wait to do their research and find a company that is right for their property’s needs. This will create undue stress, which could lead to making a bad or costly decision.

 

Joseph Goldberger is the president and partner of Cal-Quake and Cal-QuakeADU. Cal-Quake has built a strong reputation as a dependable, reliable resource in construction and retrofitting for over 35 years. Cal-Quake’s offices are located in Los Angeles, but their services are statewide, including a complete turnkey service for multi-family ADUs. Cal-Quake.com | Cal-QuakeADU.com | 800-351-2969 | [email protected]