What owners of 3+ unit apartments should know about Senate Bill 721

In 2018, the California Senate passed Senate Bill 721 (SB 721) into law. The legislation focuses on ensuring the safety of decks, balconies, and walkways that are elevated from the ground, and it imposes strict inspection standards for these structures. The deadline for compliance has been set for January 1,2025.

What was the reason for the passing of Senate Bill 721?

SB-721 was enacted in response to a devastating balcony collapse that occurred at a Berkley apartment building in 2015, resulting in the death of six college students. An investigation revealed that the balcony had not been properly waterproofed and its wooden frame had rotted, compromising its structural integrity. The property manager had also neglected necessary maintenance despite clear signs of water damage.

This tragedy led to a legal battle in which the victims' families won a multimillion-dollar settlement against the property management company and building owners. The incident sparked a nationwide conversation about who bears responsibility for ensuring the safety and structural integrity of residential buildings.

As a result, California lawmakers passed SB-721, one of several balcony laws in California which became effective on January 1, 2019.

Who will be impacted by SB 721?

All buildings in California that have three or more multi-family units are impacted by the law, including triplexes, quads, fourplexes, and larger apartment buildings. The new law requires that all elevated exterior elements of these units be inspected, including decks, porches, stairways, walkways, and any other entry structure that is elevated more than six feet above ground level. Currently, the law only applies to structures made from wood or with a wood-based framework.

A last-minute amendment to SB-721 excluded condominiums, Common Interest Developments, and condo conversion projects. Condos are covered by a separate law, SB-326. Nevertheless, apartments that were converted to condos after January 2, 2019 must be inspected before the first escrow closing.

What are the prerequisites for complying with SB-721?

SB-721 enforces strict regulations for individuals who own or manage buildings, including building owners, landlords, and property managers. These regulations are as follows:

● It is mandatory to conduct inspections every six years. If a building has exterior elements that are raised more than 6 inches above the ground, it must undergo a safety inspection before January 1, 2025, and then continue to have safety inspections every six years thereafter.

● There are restrictions on who is authorized to carry out safety inspections. Only safety inspectors who meet the requirements of SB-721 are permitted to conduct evaluations.

● A minimum of 15% of all raised components need to be examined. The new law mandates that during each safety evaluation of a building, a minimum of 15% of all elevated elements must be inspected. The inspector has the discretion to choose which elevated features to examine.

● Records of inspections need to be maintained for two cycles. As per SB-721, safety inspection reports need to be retained for a period of 12 years, which is equivalent to two inspection cycles. In case the authorities ask for these reports, the building inspector is obligated to provide them.

● There are certain criteria that reports must adhere to. According to SB-721, safety inspection reports have to fulfill three main criteria. Firstly, they should describe the state of the elevated element. Secondly, they should specify the anticipated lifespan of the element. Lastly, if necessary, they should suggest further inspections. Inspection firms are required to provide a thorough report that meets these standards within 45 days of the inspection.

What happens if a safety inspection reveals necessary repairs?

When the inspection report reveals necessary repairs, the inspector must categorize them into one of the following groups.

Urgent action is necessary

Repairs that are labeled as "immediate action required" pose a significant danger to people's lives and safety. If these issues are discovered during a safety inspection, the inspector must inform both the local building department and the building owner within 15 days of the inspection. The building owner must then inform tenants and restrict access to the affected area if necessary. The owner has 120 days to obtain a building permit for the necessary repairs and an additional 120 days to complete them.

Repairs are necessary

These concerns encompass any problems that cannot be fixed through upkeep but do not pose an urgent danger to people's lives and well-being. If repairs are necessary, the proprietor of the structure has a period of 120 days to secure a permit for construction and an extra 120 days to finish the necessary repairs.

4 non-compliance consequences that you may encounter

Lawmakers have included severe punishments for facilities that do not comply with SB-721 in order to ensure that its provisions are enforced.

These penalties consist of:

1. Penalties that can reach a maximum of $500 for each day. Facilities that do not comply with the requirements of SB-721 may be subject to penalties ranging from $100 to $500 per day for each day they remain non-compliant.

2. Evaluation of security interests for safety purposes. In case a civil fine or penalty is imposed, the local authorities have the option to place a safety lien on the establishment. If the owner of a building declines to pay fines for non-compliance, the local authorities can settle the lien by taking possession of the property through foreclosure.

3. The retrieval of expenses related to enforcing something. According to SB-721, landlords, property owners, and property managers may be required to pay for enforcement costs by local enforcement agencies.

4. Effects on the ability of a landlord to obtain insurance coverage. If a building fails to meet the requirements of SB-721, it could affect the landlord's ability to obtain sufficient insurance coverage and may even make it impossible.

Who is qualified to conduct an SB-721 inspection?

Landlords and property owners face a difficult challenge with SB-721 as it restricts who is authorized to carry out the mandatory safety inspections required by law. The law permits qualified parties such as general contractors with "A," "B," or "C-5" license classifications in California with at least five years of experience, certified building inspectors, and architects or engineers to conduct the inspections. Furthermore, the person who performs the safety inspection cannot be the same person who carries out necessary repairs. Although the deadline for SB-721 safety inspections is January 1, 2025, landlords and property owners should not assume they have ample time to make arrangements.

There is a shortage of qualified inspectors in California

California has around 500,000 apartment complexes, but approximately only 200 building inspectors who are eligible to carry out SB-721 inspections. This implies that each inspector would have to conduct over 800 inspections every year to cater to the needs of property owners in California, which is not feasible.

Therefore, it is advisable to act fast and secure inspection dates as soon as possible to guarantee that you have a qualified safety inspector for your SB-721 evaluations.

Let me help you find reliable inspection services for decks and balconies

The implementation of SB-721 has introduced numerous obligations for building proprietors, landlords, and property managers, but the right support makes all the difference in both compliance and peace of mind. I can connect you with the appropriate professionals, or the team at our sister company Prudent Property Management can facilitate these projects for you.

If you would like to talk about opportunities to buy or sell, please email or call.