(SB 326: The Balcony Bill)
Updated by: Kieran J. Purcell, Esq., CCAL
By now most of you are aware that in August, 2019, Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill No. 326 (“SB 326”) into law, adding Civil Code section 5551 to the Davis-Stirling Act. This statute requires associations to perform inspections of balconies and other exterior elevated elements that the association has an obligation to maintain and/or repair by the end of 2024.
Below is an overview of the important points associations should be aware of as they prepare to conduct their first round of inspections under this new law.
Which Associations are Impacted?
Associations with buildings having three or more multifamily dwellings. Single family home communities are not affected.
What Needs to be Inspected?
Any “Exterior Elevated Elements” (“EEEs”) the association has a responsibility to repair or maintain. Generally, this will be any load bearing components that extend beyond the exterior walls of the building to deliver structural loads to the building. Primarily this includes balconies, decks, stairways, walkways, and railings that are supported by wood or wood-based products and are more than six feet above the ground.
Who Can Perform Inspections?
Inspections must be performed by a licensed structural engineer or architect. Larger associations may also need to use a statistician, as the statute requires a statistically relevant sample size be inspected (95% confidence level, with a 5% margin of error).
When do Inspections Need to be Performed?
Inspections must be completed every nine years. The first inspection must be completed by the end of 2024. Buildings completing construction after this law went into effect, on January 1, 2020, will need to complete their first inspection within six years of issuance of a certificate of occupancy.
What Must the Inspection Look For?
Visual inspections must confirm EEEs are in a “generally safe condition” and “performing in accordance with applicable standards.” If the inspector sees signs that the waterproofing system has been compromised, or that there is risk of damage to the load bearing components of the building, they are to use their best judgment to recommend further inspections. If there are any threats to safety of residents, the inspector must notify the association immediately and governmental inspection agencies within 15 days of issuing their report. The association must act immediately to prevent access to dangerous areas and take other appropriate preventive measures necessary to protect the safety of the residents.
What Reports Must be Generated from the Inspection?
The inspector must issue a written report that includes:
- Identification of the applicable building components subject to inspection;
- Current physical condition of the components and whether there is a present threat
to health or safety of residents;
- Expected future performance of the components and remaining useful life; and
- Recommendations for any repairs.
The initial five-year window to complete the first inspection is intended to allow associations to coordinate their first balcony inspections to take place with an upcoming reserve study inspection. The subsequent nine-year balcony inspection cycles will then align with every third reserve study inspection going forward.
Prior to moving forward with inspections, an association should also confirm there are no more stringent inspection requirements in its governing documents or required by local government or enforcement agencies, as Civil Code section 5551 allows for more stringent requirements to be adopted locally.
What Does an Association Do with the Report?
The inspector’s report must be stamped or signed, and included in the association’s reserve study. The reports generated must be preserved in the association’s records for a period of at least two inspection cycles (or six years).