One of the primary reasons behind the implementation of the Balcony Inspection Law is the imperative need to ensure the structural integrity of multifamily residential buildings. Balconies are exposed to various weather conditions, including intense sunlight, rain, and sometimes earthquakes. Over time, these external factors can lead to wear and tear, compromising the stability of balconies.
The legislation mandates regular inspections to identify and address potential structural issues promptly, reducing the risk of accidents and ensuring the safety of residents. In this blog, we will discuss the specific aspects of the Balcony Inspection Law, exploring its significance, the criteria it encompasses, and the broader implications for the multifamily housing sector in California.
Why Balcony Inspection Law Introduced?
On June 16, 2015, a tragic incident took place in Berkeley, California. A gathering of young individuals, including five Irish J-1 visa students and one Irish-American, gathered on a balcony to celebrate a 21st birthday party. Suddenly, the balcony they stood on collapsed, resulting in devastating consequences.
Six individuals lost their lives, and seven others sustained injuries. The balcony’s collapse at the Library Gardens apartment building was a result of prolonged water intrusion, leading to dry rot in the wood framing and, ultimately, the structural failure.
Subsequent investigations revealed that the ownership and management had overlooked concerning signs raised by tenants. Reports included instances of molds growing on the surface and observations of the balcony tilting or sinking. Despite these “red flags,” the reported issues went unaddressed.
In response to this tragic incident, California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, took decisive action by approving the SB721 inspection on September 17, 2018. Commonly known as the “Balcony Inspection Law,” this legislation came into effect on January 1, 2019, with a deadline for initial inspections set for January 1, 2025.
What About Multifamily Condos in Common Interest Developments?
For multifamily buildings subject to the Balcony Inspection Law and proposed for conversion to condominiums after January 1, 2019, the required inspection must be conducted before the first close of escrow. Inspection reports, along with confirmation of completed repairs, must be submitted to the Department of Real Estate, outlined in the Public Report for the condominium conversion project.
While the Balcony Inspection Law addresses multi-family buildings, it does not apply to common interest developments. To address this, Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill No. 326 into law on August 30, 2019, adding Civil Code Section 5551 to the Davis Stirling Common Interest Development Act. This section mandates exterior elevated elements’ inspection every nine years for attached condominium projects, with the initial inspection for buildings with permits submitted after January 1, 2020, to occur within six years of certificate of occupancy issuance.
What Does the Balcony Inspection Law Requires?
Here are some of the impacts and requirements that property managers and owners must address to ensure compliance with the Balcony Inspection Laws.
- The initial inspection, mandated within a five-year timeframe, offers property associations the opportunity to align balcony inspections with upcoming reserve study inspections.
- Before proceeding, associations should verify the absence of more stringent inspection requirements in their governing documents or mandated by local authorities. The legislation permits the adoption of locally enhanced requirements.
- Upon receiving inspection reports, associations are obliged to promptly implement preventive measures, including restricting occupant access to the exterior elevated element until repairs are inspected and approved by the local enforcement agency.
- In addition to these provisions, Homeowners Associations (HOAs) are mandated to conduct a Reserve Study every three years. The bill also grants the association board the authority to establish rules or bylaws imposing requirements exceeding those stipulated by these provisions.
What Legal Compliance and Liabilities Come with This Law?
Compliance with the Balcony Inspection Law is not just a matter of safety; it also carries legal implications. Property owners failing to adhere to the inspection requirements may face legal consequences and liabilities in the event of accidents or injuries resulting from balcony issues. This legal framework creates a system of accountability, motivating property owners to prioritize the safety of their residents.
Non-compliance with the Balcony Inspection Law may result in penalties ranging from $100 to $500 per day for affected buildings. Local jurisdictions also have the authority to enforce safety liens against non-compliant buildings, seeking satisfaction through foreclosure if fines remain unpaid.
What Meets the Criteria for an “Exterior Elevated Element”?
The Balcony Inspection Law mandates the inspection of “exterior elevated elements” within all multi-family residential buildings in California comprising three or more units. Structures subject to inspection under the Balcony Inspection Law are categorized as “exterior elevated elements” and must meet all the criteria outlined below:
- Balconies, decks, porches, stairways, walkways, and entry structures (including supports and railings) extend beyond exterior walls.
- Walking surfaces elevated more than six feet above ground level.
- Reliance, in whole or substantial part, on wood or wood-based products for structural support or stability.
- Given these criteria, it’s crucial to consult a qualified professional to determine compliance with the Balcony Inspection Law.
Who Conducts the Balcony Inspections?
To comply with the Balcony Inspection Law, building owners must enlist the services of one of the following qualified professionals for inspections:
- Licensed architect.
- Licensed civil or structural engineer.
- A building contractor with a valid license in “A,” “B,” or “C-5” license classifications and a minimum of five years of experience.
- Individual certified as a building inspector or building official by a recognized association, as determined by the local jurisdiction.
- Inspectors must not be employed by the local jurisdiction during the inspection process.
What Building Owners Can Do If Inspector Identifies Balcony Damage?
If the inspector identifies damage that poses an immediate safety threat, owners must promptly reduce the risks. This could involve measures such as preventing access to affected areas and emergency repairs. Suppose the damage doesn’t pose an immediate safety risk.
In that case, the building owner has 120 days to apply for a permit for repair work, with an additional 120 days after permit approval to complete necessary repairs. All repair and replacement work must be performed by a qualified and licensed contractor, distinct from the inspector.
The implementation of a Balcony Inspection Law in California for multifamily residences serves as a crucial step toward ensuring the safety and well-being of residents. Balconies are integral components of many housing structures, providing spaces for recreation and relaxation. However, incidents of balcony failures have underscored the need for comprehensive regulations to mitigate potential risks. Vulcan Vents provides balcony inspection vents to make things safer and control moisture, helping you follow California’s balcony inspection law.