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What is SB 721 Inspection?

Often referred to as the “Deck and Balcony Inspection Bill,” Sb721 went into effect in California on January 1, 2019. It was enacted in response to a balcony collapse in Berkeley at the Liberty Gardens Apartments that resulted in the deaths and serious injuries of those occupying the structure at the time. 

Sb721 requires that buildings containing three or more dwelling units have their Exterior Elevated Elements (EEE) inspected on a regular basis. To maintain compliance with the provisions of Sb721, building owners of units that house three or more units must complete the first inspection by January 1, 2025 and be re-inspected at a minimum of every six years. Inspection reports are required to be kept by owners on premises for a minimum of two inspection cycles. This means that at least the two most recent inspection reports ( 12 years) are required to be onsite to meet the standards set forth in Sb721. If the owner decides to sell the building, the report should be sent to the new owner.

Qualified Inspectors SB-721

The Inspection Report of exterior elevated elements and associated waterproofing elements must be performed and certified by a licensed architect, civil or structural engineer, or a certified building inspector. Other acceptable inspections and reports may be performed by building contractors who hold specified licenses; however, contractors may not perform the repairs of any deficiencies or repairs found during their inspection. Repairs need to be made by licensed contractors other than the one performing the inspection. 

Areas and Extent of Inspection

Inspectors must address the following areas and certify that they follow local, state and industry building code:

  • Evaluate the condition and structural integrity of all components of the balcony or deck, including:

  • Water intrusion or damage.

  • Check edges, walls, and flashing for rust and corrosion and proper use and installation of waterproofing materials.

  • Inspect finishings and coatings for integrity noting cracks and other indications of water intrusion that may surface prior to the next inspection.

  • Railings, banisters, stairs and supports must be securely fastened and structurally sound including any support beams and inter-dependency with building support.

  • Wood framing must be inspected for existing rot and damage that affects structural integrity.

A written report with photographic evidence must be completed with any damages noted. Damages noted that constitute an immediate threat to life and safety must be highlighted for immediate repair. 

All reports that note life safety issues and immediate repairs necessary must be filed with the building officials of the local municipal or county building department. Owners with reports that note emergency repairs necessary must apply immediately for emergency repair permits and undertake those repairs before continued use of the EEE. 

Owners whose reports call for non-emergency repairs have 120 days to obtain applicable permits and undertake repairs. Inspectors are required to notify local enforcement agencies of repairs that are not completed or acted upon within 180 days of the inspection.

Owners who do not comply with an order of repair issued by local enforcement agencies are subject to civil penalties that could result in a building safety lien against the property.

What Are Exterior Elevated Elements (EEE) for SB 721?

An Exterior Elevated Element (EEE) is a structural element of a building (including supports, associated waterproofing systems, and railings) that has the following properties:

  • It extends beyond a building’s exterior walls

  • It is designed for human use

  • Has a walking surface more than 6 feet above ground level

  • Has load-bearing components made with wood or wood-based products

  • Include balconies, decks, porches, stairways, walkways, and entry structures.

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