A Guide for Landlords and Building Owners: Navigating California’s Building Balcony Safety

Written by Apartment Management Magazine on . Posted in Blog

Inspections of Balconies and Other Exterior Elevated Elements Under Senate Bills 721 and 326

By Omid Ghanadiof, “Dr. Balcony” and EEEadvisor Engineering

As a landlord or building owner in California, it is essential to stay informed about the latest legislative developments that impact your responsibilities and obligations. Two important bills, Senate Bill 721 (SB 721) and Senate Bill 326 (SB 326), have been enacted to enhance safety standards for multi-unit residential buildings. This article aims to provide a comprehensive guide to help you prepare yourself and your building in compliance with these important guidelines.

Understanding SB 721: Balcony Inspections and Repairs for Multifamily Rental Housing

SB 721, also known as the “Balcony Inspection and Repair Act,” was signed into law in 2018, following a tragic balcony collapse incident in Berkeley. This legislation requires the inspection and maintenance of certain exterior elevated elements in multi-unit residential rental buildings, including balconies, decks, stairways, and walkways. The following is a summary of the important aspects of SB 721:

  • Covered Buildings: Any residential building with three or more units and at least one exterior elevated element.
    • Inspection Frequency: Balconies and other exterior elevated elements must be inspected at least once every six years.
    • Qualified Inspectors: Licensed architects, civil or structural engineers, or certified contractors to conduct inspections.
    • Initial Inspection Due Date: January 1, 2025

A qualified inspector should assess the condition of all exterior elevated elements. Inspections should identify visible signs of decay, deterioration, or safety hazards. The inspector will then produce a detailed report that includes recommendations for any necessary repairs or maintenance. Following the inspection, owners should prioritize safety repairs by addressing any identified safety hazards promptly and perform necessary repairs, implement strategies to prevent water intrusion, such as waterproofing and sealing, and replace damaged or deteriorated materials to ensure the structural integrity of balconies and other elements.

Understanding SB 326: Balcony and Elevated Walkway Inspections for Condominiums

SB 326, also known as the “Building Inspections: Balconies and Elevated Walkways” bill, was signed into law in 2019. The purpose of this legislation is to prevent accidents related to building structural issues, with a specific focus on balconies and elevated walkways at condominium properties.

Guidelines for Inspections

When conducting inspections of buildings in accordance with SB 721 and SB 326 in California, inspectors follow specific guidelines and checklists to assess the condition and safety of the exterior elevated elements, such as balconies, decks, stairways, and walkways. While specific checklists may vary slightly based on the inspector or the building’s unique characteristics, here is a general checklist that inspectors commonly use to evaluate buildings and determine compliance:

  • Structural Integrity: (i) Inspect the structural components, including beams, columns, and support systems, for signs of deterioration, decay, or damage, and (ii) Look for signs of sagging, cracking, excessive movement, or other indications of compromised structural integrity.
  • Waterproofing and Drainage: (i) Check the waterproofing system, including membranes, sealants, and flashing, to ensure effective protection against water intrusion, and (ii) Evaluate the drainage system to verify that it effectively directs water away from the building and prevents pooling or accumulation on balconies and elevated walkways.
  • Guardrails and Handrails: (i) Examine the guardrails and handrails for stability and secure attachment to the structure, (ii) Ensure that guardrails are of appropriate height and designed to prevent accidental falls and (iii) Confirm that handrails are properly installed and graspable for optimal safety.
  • Balcony Surface and Flooring: (i) Inspect the balcony surfaces and flooring materials for signs of deterioration, such as cracking, rotting, or loose tiles, and (ii) Check for trip hazards, uneven surfaces, or any other conditions that may compromise safety.
  • Corrosion and Rust: (i) Assess metal components, such as connectors, fasteners, and structural elements, for signs of corrosion or rust, and (ii) Pay attention to areas where metal is exposed to the elements, as these are particularly susceptible to degradation.
  • Proper Anchoring and Connections: (i) Verify that all elevated elements are securely anchored and connected to the building’s structure, and (ii) Inspect fasteners, bolts, and connectors to ensure they are properly installed and not showing signs of deterioration.
  • Documentation and Maintenance Records: (i) Review documentation related to previous inspections, repairs, and maintenance activities, and (ii) Ensure that required inspection and repair records are available for review, as mandated by SB 721 and SB 326.

Should You Obtain a Permit for Elevated Exterior Element Repairs? YES!

In completing any type of repair work in response to inspections under SB 326 and SB 721, permits should always be obtained. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Accountability and Liability: By obtaining a permit, you demonstrate your commitment to fulfilling your responsibilities as a landlord or building owner. In case of any accidents or structural failures, having a permit and documentation of inspections can provide legal protection. It demonstrates that you have taken the necessary steps to ensure the safety of your building and its occupants.
  • Transparency and Trust: Obtaining a permit and following the proper channels shows transparency to tenants, prospective buyers, and regulatory agencies. It enhances the trust and confidence they have in your property. It also allows tenants to have peace of mind, knowing that the building has undergone thorough inspections and necessary repairs to ensure their safety.
  • Future Reference and Maintenance: Permits and associated documentation create a record of inspections, repairs, and maintenance activities performed on the balconies or elevated elements. This record serves as a valuable reference for future inspections, providing a history of maintenance and repairs. It helps to establish a maintenance schedule and track the lifespan of different components, ensuring the ongoing safety and integrity of the building.
  • Verification of Qualified Inspections: When you obtain a permit, it often involves submitting inspection reports from qualified professionals who have assessed the condition of the balconies or other exterior elevated elements. The permit process provides a system of checks and balances, ensuring that the inspections are conducted by licensed and knowledgeable experts who are familiar with the relevant safety standards.

Working on the building without a permit can lead to serious consequences if the city discovers it. They have the authority to halt your project and penalize both you and the contractor for a minimum of 90 days.

SB 721 and SB 326 attempt to enhance safety standards in multi-unit residential buildings, emphasizing the inspection, maintenance, and repair of exterior elevated elements like balconies and walkways. As a responsible landlord or building owner, it is crucial to familiarize yourself with the requirements of these bills, schedule regular inspections, and promptly address any identified safety hazards. By adhering to these guidelines, you prioritize the well-being of your tenants and contribute to the overall safety of your property.

Omid Ghanadiof is a co-founder of EEEadvisor Engineering, a specialized engineering inspection firm that assists rental property owners and homeowners associations (HOAs) with compliance under state mandated balcony inspection laws per Senate Bills 721 and 326. For more information, contact Mr. Ghanadiof at (805) 312-8513 or info@DrBalcony.com. Visit their website at www.DrBalcony.com. Let EEEadvisor Engineering help you beat that deadline and address any problems at your multi-unit properties before its too late.