Beaumont Tashjian Law Blog

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Senate Bill 326: Balcony Inspections

On August 30, 2019, the Governor approved Senate Bill No. 326 (“SB 326”), which amends Civil Code Section 5551 and requires associations to conduct an inspection of their exterior elevated elements (i.e., balconies, decks, patios, stairways, walkways, and their railings) and the associated waterproofing systems, to determine if they are in a generally safe condition. The California legislature passed this bill in an attempt to prevent future balcony collapses like the tragedy that occurred in Berkeley in 2015, which left six people dead and another seven injured.  

Civil Code Section 5551(b) now requires that: 

“(1) At least once every nine years, the board of an association of a condominium project shall cause a reasonably competent and diligent visual inspection to be conducted by a licensed structural engineer or architect of a random and statistically significant sample of exterior elevated elements for which the association has maintenance or repair responsibility.
(2) The inspection shall determine whether the exterior elevated elements are in a generally safe condition and performing in accordance with applicable standards.”

The inspection must be done by a licensed structural engineer once every nine (9) years, with the first one being accomplished by January 1, 2025. Fortunately, this allows associations approximately four (4) years to comply, which may include implementing internal procedures to accomplish this task, and budgeting for the funds to hire the inspector.  The new law applies to all condominium projects with more than three (3) units in a building.  

The implication of this new law is that boards will have to hire a qualified structural engineer or architect to perform an inspection; however, not all of the units are required to be inspected.  The qualified inspector will select a random and statistically significant sampling of the balconies (“Statistically significant sample” meaning a sufficient number of units inspected to provide ninety-five percent (95%) confidence that the results from the sample are reflective of the whole, with a margin of error of no greater than plus or minus five percent (5%)). In other words, the expert will generate a random list of the locations of each type of exterior elevated element to be inspected.

Based on the visual inspection, the inspector will determine whether further testing is needed, identify any immediate threats to the health and safety of residents, and then prepare a report with his/her findings and recommendations for repairs and the expected future performance and useful life remaining.  The inspector’s report must be signed, presented to the Board and then incorporated into the association’s reserve study.  If the report identifies any components creating a health and safety risk, the inspector must provide the report to local code enforcement and the association “shall take preventive measures immediately, including preventing occupant access to the exterior elevated element until repairs have been inspected and approved by the local enforcement agency.”
  
In summary, the new law requires community associations to inspect balconies and other wooden elevated structures to assure that they are safe, by establishing practical procedures which associations can follow when they perform reserve studies. Associations are encouraged to plan for these inspections, and budget for, not only the inspection itself, but the substantial repairs that may be mandated by the structural engineer. 

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