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Ensuring Safety and Compliance: Understanding California’s SB-721 and its Impact on Building Owners

In 2018, the California Senate introduced Senate Bill 721, also known as SB-721, which imposes strict safety and inspection standards for exterior elevated elements (EEE) such as decks, balconies, and walkways. 

The legislation was a response to a tragic balcony collapse in Berkley in 2015 that claimed the lives of six college students. To prevent such incidents, SB-721 requires building owners, landlords, and property managers to comply with comprehensive inspection requirements. This article delves into the provisions of SB-721, its implications, and the penalties for non-compliance.

Understanding the Need for SB-721:
SB-721 was born out of the tragic balcony collapse incident in 2015 that exposed the inadequate safety measures and neglected maintenance practices in the building. The resulting legal battle emphasized the importance of responsibility for residential building safety. This led to the passage of SB-721, which became effective on January 1, 2019, and is now part of California’s balcony laws. The legislation aims to safeguard residents and prioritize structural integrity.

Who Must Comply with SB-721?
SB-721 applies to all buildings in California with three or more multi-family units, including triplexes, fourplexes, and larger apartment buildings. It specifically targets exterior elevated elements, encompassing decks, porches, stairways, walkways, and other entry structures elevated more than 6 feet above ground level. Presently, the law pertains to structures made from wood or with a wood-based framework.

Requirements of SB-721:
SB-721 establishes several requirements for building owners, landlords, and property managers. These include:

  1. Mandatory inspections every six years: Buildings with exterior elements elevated more than 6 inches above the ground must undergo a preliminary safety inspection before January 1, 2025, followed by subsequent inspections every six years.
  2. Authorized safety inspectors: Safety inspections must be conducted by qualified inspectors designated under SB-721 guidelines.
  3. Minimum 15% inspection coverage: Each safety evaluation must inspect a minimum of 15% of a building’s total elevated elements. The selection of specific features to inspect is at the inspector’s discretion.
  4. Retention of inspection reports: Safety inspection reports must be retained for two inspection cycles, equivalent to 12 years. These reports may be requested by jurisdictional officials for review.
  5. Comprehensive inspection reports: Inspection reports must meet specific criteria, including defining the condition of the EEE, stating the expected service life of the elevated element, and providing recommendations for additional inspections, if necessary. Inspection companies have 45 days to deliver these comprehensive reports.

Addressing Repairs Uncovered During Inspections:
If an inspection report reveals required repairs, the repairs are classified into two categories:

  1. Immediate Action Required: Issues that pose an immediate risk to life and safety fall into this category. Building owners must promptly notify the local building department, inform tenants, and take necessary measures to prevent access to the affected area. They have 120 days to obtain a building permit and an additional 120 days to complete the repairs.
  2. Repairs Required: These issues do not present an immediate threat but require attention. Building owners are given 120 days to obtain a building permit and another 120 days to complete the necessary repairs.

Penalties for Non-Compliance:
SB-721 includes severe penalties for non-compliant facilities:

  1. Daily fines: Non-compliant facilities may face fines ranging from $100 to $500 per day.
  2. Safety liens: Local jurisdictions can issue safety liens against non-compliant facilities and resort to foreclosure if fines remain unpaid.
  3. Enforcement cost recovery: Local enforcement agencies have the authority to recover enforcement costs from landlords, property owners, and property managers.
  4. Impact on insurance eligibility: Failure to comply with SB-721 can affect a landlord’s insurance eligibility and make it challenging to obtain adequate coverage.

The Importance of Acting Now:
Considering the upcoming inspection deadline and the limited number of qualified inspectors, prompt action is crucial. Delaying inspections can lead to rushed procedures, decreased availability, and increased risks. By scheduling inspections early, building owners can ensure compliance, prevent penalties, and create a safer living environment for their residents.

Schedule Your SB-721 Inspection Today:
At CalRetrofit, we specialize in SB-721 inspections and understand the complexities involved. Our experienced team can guide you through the process, helping you avoid penalties and potential disasters. Don’t wait until the deadline approaches—take proactive steps to secure your inspection dates and qualified safety inspectors.

Contact us now to prioritize the safety and compliance of your property and its occupants. Together, let’s create a safer living environment for everyone!

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