Friday, February 10, 2023
In the wake of the tragic balcony collapse in Berkeley that claimed seven young lives back in 2015, the State of California has taken significant steps to improve the safety of multifamily buildings. On September 17, 2018, Governor Jerry Brown approved Senate Bill No. 721, also known as the “Balcony Inspection Law,” which came into effect on January 1, 2019. This landmark legislation sets out to ensure that all exterior elevated elements, including balconies, decks, porches, stairways, walkways, and entry structures, are thoroughly inspected for safety and compliance.
What is the Balcony Inspection Law?
The Balcony Inspection Law mandates that all multi-family residential buildings in California containing three or more dwelling units must undergo inspections of their “exterior elevated elements.” The initial inspections must be completed by January 1, 2025, with subsequent inspections required every six years. Building owners are required to retain copies of inspection reports for at least two inspection cycles, equivalent to twelve years. These inspection reports must be provided to any potential future buyers of the building and must be made available to jurisdictional officials upon request. While the law sets minimum inspection and repair requirements at the state level, local jurisdictions may impose even stricter standards.
What Qualifies as an “Exterior Elevated Element”?
To be subject to inspection under the Balcony Inspection Law, the “exterior elevated elements” must meet the following criteria:
- Balconies, decks, porches, stairways, walkways, and entry structures that extend beyond the exterior walls of the building, including their supports and railings.
- The walking surfaces must be elevated more than six feet (6′) above ground level.
- The exterior elevated elements must rely wholly or substantially on wood or wood-based products for structural support or stability.
Who Performs the Inspections?
To comply with the Balcony Inspection Law, building owners must hire a licensed architect, licensed civil or structural engineer, a building contractor holding any of the “A,” “B,” or “C-5” license classifications issued by the Contractors’ State License Board with at least five years’ experience, or an individual certified as a building inspector or building official from a recognized state, national, or international association (as determined by the local jurisdiction). The inspector cannot be employed by the local jurisdiction while performing the inspection.
Get Compliant with CalRetrofit
At CalRetrofit, we understand the importance of complying with the Balcony Inspection Law and ensuring the safety of your multifamily building’s exterior elevated elements. Our team of experienced professionals is ready to assist you in meeting the January 1, 2025 deadline.
What If Damage Is Identified During Inspection?
In the event that the inspector identifies damage that poses an immediate safety risk to occupants, building owners are required to take prompt mitigation actions. These measures may include preventing access to affected areas, shoring up vulnerable structures, and conducting emergency repairs. If the damage does not pose an immediate safety risk, the building owner has 120 days from receiving the inspection report to apply for a permit to carry out the necessary repairs. Once the permit is approved, the owner has an additional 120 days to complete the repairs. Extensions for repairs are subject to approval by local building departments. It is crucial to hire a qualified and licensed contractor to perform all repair and replacement work, as the same contractor who conducted the inspection cannot carry out these repairs.
Penalties for Non-Compliance
Non-compliant buildings are subject to penalties ranging from $100 to $500 per day under the Balcony Inspection Law. Furthermore, the local jurisdiction has the right to enforce a safety lien against the building. Should the building owner refuse to pay the fines, the local jurisdiction can seek to satisfy the lien through foreclosure.
What If You’re Converting to a Condominium Building?
For multifamily buildings subject to the Balcony Inspection Law that are proposed for conversion to condominiums and sold to the public after January 1, 2019, the required inspection must be conducted before the first close of escrow for a separate interest in the condominium conversion project. The inspection report and written confirmation of completed repairs, if any, must be submitted to the Department of Real Estate, among others, and described in the Public Report issued by the Department of Real Estate for the condominium conversion project.
Common Interest Developments
While the Balcony Inspection Law addresses inspection requirements for owners of multi-family buildings, it does not apply to common interest developments. For such properties, Senate Bill No. 326 was signed into law on August 30, 2019. It adds Civil Code Section 5551 to the Davis Stirling Common Interest Development Act. The main difference is that Section 5551 requires the board of an association of an attached condominium project to have exterior elevated elements inspected at least once every nine (9) years, with an initial inspection due no later than six (6) years following the issuance of a certificate of occupancy for buildings with building permit applications submitted on or after January 1, 2020.
Stay Ahead of the Deadline
With the January 1, 2025 deadline quickly approaching, it’s vital for multifamily building owners to be proactive in meeting the Balcony Inspection Law requirements. By conducting timely inspections and making any necessary repairs, we can safeguard the safety and well-being of our residents and communities. So, let’s work together with CalRetrofit to ensure our buildings are balcony-ready and meet the January 1, 2025 deadline with confidence! Reach out to CalRetrofit today and let us guide you through the process of compliance. Your residents’ safety is our top priority!