In 2018, California's Senate Bill 721 (SB 721) was enacted into law, with the goal of ensuring the safety of Exterior Elevated Elements (EEE) such as balconies, decks, and walkways. The deadline for compliance with SB 721's stringent inspection standards is January 1, 2025. At Deck and Balcony Inspections, Inc., we conduct regular SB 721 inspections and are well-versed in the impact it has had on landlords, property owners, and building managers.
The origin of SB 721 can be traced back to a devastating balcony collapse in 2015 that resulted in the death of six college students. A subsequent investigation revealed that the balcony had been inadequately waterproofed and that the wooden frame had rotted, undermining its structural stability. The property management company and building owners were held responsible for the tragedy, as maintenance had been delayed despite clear signs of water damage.
SB 721 was enacted in response to this tragedy and the subsequent public debate about who is responsible for the safety and structural integrity of residential buildings. The law applies to all California buildings with three or more multi-family units, including triplexes, quads, fourplexes, and larger apartment buildings. These buildings must have all elevated exterior elements inspected, including decks, porches, stairways, walkways, and any other structure elevated more than 6 feet above ground level.
Initially, SB721 only covered structures made of wood or with a wood-based framework. However, a last-minute amendment excluded condominiums, Common Interest Developments, and apartment projects. These properties are covered by SB 326, which was later passed. However, apartments that have been converted to condos after January 2, 2019 must be inspected before the first escrow closing.
Property owners affected by SB 721 must ensure that elevated exterior structures are inspected by January 1, 2025. Failure to comply could result in significant penalties for building owners. In this blog, we will outline the inspection requirements set forth by SB 721 and discuss the penalties for non-compliant building owners.
What are the Requirements of SB-721?
SB-721 has strict regulations for building owners, landlords, and property managers. Every six years, buildings with exterior features elevated more than 6 inches from the ground must undergo a safety inspection. The inspections must be conducted by qualified safety inspectors and a minimum of 15% of the elevated elements must be inspected during each evaluation. The inspection reports must be kept for 12 years and must meet three specific requirements. If the inspection reveals necessary repairs, the inspector must categorize the repairs into one of several categories.
In the event that the inspection reveals the need for repairs, the inspector must classify these repairs into two categories: "Immediate Action Required" or "Repairs Required". If repairs are classified as "Immediate Action Required", they represent a real threat to life and safety, and the building owner must inform tenants, prevent access to the affected area, and complete the necessary repairs within 30 days of the inspection.
For repairs classified as "Repairs Required", the building owner has 120 days to obtain a building permit and another 120 days to complete the repairs.
Non-compliance with SB-721 can result in several penalties, including fines of up to $500 per day, assessment of safety liens, recovery of enforcement costs, and potential impact on a landlord's insurance eligibility. The local jurisdiction can choose to impose fines and assess liens against non-compliant facilities, and if necessary, satisfy the liens through foreclosure if the building owner refuses to pay the fines. Additionally, local enforcement agencies can recover enforcement costs from landlords, property owners, and property managers, and a failure to comply with SB-721 may also impact a landlord's insurance eligibility, making it more difficult or even impossible to secure adequate insurance coverage.
Who Can Perform an SB-721 Inspection?
It's important for landlords and property owners in California to be aware of the limitations set by SB-721 regarding the performance of safety inspections. Only a limited number of qualified parties, such as licensed contractors, certified building inspectors, architects, or engineers, are allowed to perform these inspections. Additionally, the inspector cannot be the same person who performs the required repairs. With a deadline of January 1, 2025, it is recommended to book inspection dates as soon as possible due to the limited number of qualified inspectors available.
What Tools and Techniques are Used in SB-721 Inspections?
Our approach to deck and balcony inspections prioritizes thoroughness, accuracy, and a non-invasive approach. Here are some of the methods we use in SB-721 inspections:
Visual Examination - Our inspectors will examine the visible surfaces of elevated structures' load-bearing elements, attachment points, and guardrails to check for any apparent issues.
Endoscopic Testing - To inspect the internal structure of elevated exterior elements without causing damage, we use endoscopes. We create a small hole in the underside and insert an endoscopic camera to view the interior without compromising the structure.
Moisture Sensors - Moisture is a common problem in elevated exterior elements, so we use advanced moisture sensors to detect and identify dry rot and determine the necessary maintenance and repairs.
Infrared Cameras - To assess the structural integrity of wood and detect early signs of dry rot and moisture intrusion, we use infrared cameras.
Load Testing - Load testing evaluates the structural integrity of elevated exterior elements by simulating both live and dead loads. The results of the test will determine if the structure can safely support its intended weight, and this testing is often performed along with visual inspections, endoscopic tests, and moisture sensors.