SB 326 Guide – Balcony & Inspection Repair Law

Compliance with SB 326: A Comprehensive Guide for Southern California Condo and Townhouse Owners, HOAs, Boards, and Associations.

As a Southern California condo Association board member or property manager, it is essential to be aware of SB 326, the state’s new legislation. This law, enacted in response to unfortunate incidents involving multifamily decks, balconies, and porches, seeks to ensure the safety of residents by imposing specific requirements by the end of 2024.

The law focuses primarily on ‘exterior elevated elements’ and requires condominium HOAs and Associations to employ qualified inspectors to verify the safety of various elements, such as balconies, decks, porches, stairways, walkways, and entries. These elements must satisfy specific criteria to qualify for these requirements: they must be elevated more than 6 feet above the ground, designed for human use, constructed with timber structure supports, and extend beyond the exterior walls of the building. This includes the supports and railings of these elevated elements.

Here at GreatBuildz, a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, and San Diego Counties with reliable contractors, we speak to property owners every day about balcony and SB 326 repairs – here are some ideas & tips to get you started.

SB 326 Inspections

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According to the new law, condo associations must arrange for inspections of these elevated elements before the end of 2024 and repeat the procedure every nine years. HOA board members must employ qualified balcony inspectors to conduct these inspections. These inspectors may be architects or structural engineers.

Typically, the inspection process begins with a visual examination of these components, during which the inspector looks for indications indicating potential problems, such as inadequate waterproofing leading to fungal, rot, or deterioration damage. The law stipulates that the inspector must inspect a sufficient number of units to provide “95 percent confidence that the results from the sample are reflective of the whole, with a margin of error of no greater than plus or minus 5 percent”.

If the inspector discovers symptoms of water intrusion or damage, more invasive testing procedures may be required. This may involve using a boroscope, moisture meter, infrared testing, or even removing exterior stucco to expose areas.

The inspector will then provide the Association Board and property managers with a detailed report. This report will identify elements in good condition, those requiring maintenance with a limited useful life, and areas that pose an immediate risk to occupants and must be repaired immediately. In addition, any report identifying substantial damage that poses an immediate threat to occupants must be submitted to the local enforcement agency, such as the LA Housing Department or the Department of Building and Safety.

Keep in mind that the inspections must be incorporated into the reserve study and also maintained by the Association Board for two inspection cycles.

Cost of SB 326 Inspection

Visual SB 326 balcony inspection typically costs between $300 and $500 per balcony/element. Each inspector may have a unique pricing structure based on their standard invoicing rates. For instance, structural engineers may charge more than architects. The total cost of an SB 326 inspection will depend on the size of your complex and the number of elevated elements, but a range of $5,000 to $20,000 is reasonable.

If the inspector discovers signs of damage or water intrusion necessitating more invasive inspections and analysis, the cost can increase substantially. For exhaustive testing on each balcony, the cost could exceed $3,000. In some instances, an engineer may need to employ a contractor or specialist to expose portions of the balcony in order to assess the extent of the damage and determine the necessary repairs.

Repair Requirements for SB 326

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Any elements identified as posing an imminent threat or hazard must be repaired without delay. HOA and property management staff must also guarantee that the hazardous area is inaccessible to occupants. These urgent issues must be resolved immediately, reinspected, and reported to the enforcement agency.

For non-urgent inspection findings, the HOA board must obtain a permit for the work within 120 days of the inspection and begin the work within 120 days of receiving the permit. The enforcement agency may levy penalties against the property and file a “building safety” lien if the work is not completed within 180 days.

SB 326 Maintenance

After the inspection, the board will have a better sense of the condition of their complex balconies, decks, and other elevated elements after completing your SB 326 inspection. However, keep in mind, that only a percentage of these structures have been inspected per the requirements. Consequently, any conditions found in the sampling are likely to be present throughout your condo complex and will also need repairs.

The next stage in complying with SB 326 regulations is to locate and hire a deck and balcony contractor to review the inspection results and evaluate the overall condition of your buildings. It is essential to recognize that the inspector cannot be hired to conduct the actual repairs. Consequently, you must employ a licensed, qualified, and seasoned general contractor in Los Angeles or Southern California. Only these contractors are equipped to manage such large-scale projects.

A Los Angeles SB 326 contractor must have experience working on multifamily properties, as well as the capacity and personnel to manage projects involving structural wood, waterproofing, stucco, and exterior elements. Not all contractors have the necessary tools, such as scaffolding or lifts, to conduct work on projects located higher than two floors.

Cost of SB 326 Repairs

Decks, terraces, and other elevated areas are exposed to sun, wind, and precipitation. Consequently, they deteriorate over time if not adequately maintained. In addition, as a building and the soil beneath it shift due to soil conditions and earthquakes, areas with stucco or other waterproofing elements may develop cracks or spaces that allow water to enter.

Balconies and terraces are specifically designed with a series of waterproofing elements, including flashing, membranes, coatings, and sealants, to prevent water intrusion, dry rot, termite damage, and more. However, these protective measures are not permanent and require upkeep or replacement after a certain number of years.

Depending on the extent of repairs and maintenance required for a particular condo complex or community, the cost of SB 326 repairs can vary significantly. It could cost over $5,000 to rebuild a single balcony in poor condition. Alternatively, if a complex only requires maintenance, the total cost could be less than $20,000.

Notably, balconies with deteriorating structural components, such as timber support beams, will likely require a complete reconstruction. Rebuilding the balcony from within the building’s exterior walls is a potentially disruptive procedure.

Why SB 326 Is Necessary: Decks and Balconies can be Dangerous

Decks, balconies, and comparable structures are designed, engineered, and constructed to withstand regular use by condo residents. However, these elements possess two characteristics that could generate potentially hazardous situations. They are cantilevered, which means they protrude from the main structure and lack direct support from below. Second, they are continuously exposed to the elements and must be maintained to prevent water intrusion, dry rot, and termite damage, among other problems.

A significant difficulty with patios and balconies is that problems are frequently overlooked until they become severe. Unlike other parts of a structure, such as the roof or walls, which manifest problems rapidly in the case of water intrusion, decks, and balconies are outdoors and do not require the same degree of urgency when a problem arises.

SB 326 and the Los Angeles Department of Housing

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It is anticipated that the LA Housing Department (LAHD) will enforce the new SB 326 requirements. According to their website, the SB 326 inspector is required to submit a report to LAHD if there are obvious hazardous conditions on the property or if the owners/board have not addressed non-urgent conditions within 180 days.

The inspection report does not need to be submitted to LAHD if it does not identify corrective actions.

SB 326 Balcony and Deck Problem Signs

Despite the fact that some balcony damage may be concealed, there are frequently obvious indications that a deck requires restoration or maintenance. Large cracks or gaps in the stucco, balcony sagging or separation from the building walls, areas with standing water, bubbling or cracking of the walking surface, and soft patches on the ground may indicate potential structural damage.

SB 326 Repair Estimates in Los Angeles

The condo board can use the inspection report as a starting point for meetings with repair contractors. Given that only a small number of balconies were inspected, it is reasonable to presume that the remaining balconies may be similarly damaged and require similar repairs. During meetings with contractors, request that they review all elevated elements in your community, not just the small percentage inspected.

In cases where the inspector does not require immediate repairs, you and your contractor can decide to divide your apartment complex into phases. You could, for instance, request a bid or estimate for the balconies that were inspected and then initiate repairs in those areas. You can then have the contractor evaluate and estimate the next set of balconies, etc.

If you prefer to know the total cost of the project upfront, you must have a contractor provide an estimate for the entire complex, including both inspected and uninspected balconies. As the contractor will need to inspect each balcony and elevated element, expect this to take longer.

SB 326 Contractor in Los Angeles

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The safety of your balconies is of the utmost importance, so it’s crucial that all balcony repairs are executed properly. SB 326 balcony repairs must be performed by a licensed A, B, or C-5 local general contractor with a quality reputation in the state of California. These licensed general or framing contractors have the necessary skills and tools to complete this type of repair.

Your selected general contractor should have prior experience with apartment/condo renovations or repairs, a valid contractor’s license, and General Liability and Worker’s Compensation Insurance. Additionally, it is prudent to consider how long the contractor has held their license, as experience is invaluable in this industry. Refer to the process outlined by GreatBuildz for a comprehensive checklist of the vetting process you can use to choose an appropriate contractor.

It is strongly discouraged to hire a handyman, unlicensed contractor, or day laborer to perform SB 326 balcony repairs. Employing such individuals is fraught with substantial risk and liability if their repairs are inadequate. In addition, you will need to demonstrate to government entities, insurers, owners, and others that all balcony repairs were completed by a licensed contractor. Your SB 326 repairs will likely require a city permit from the Department of Building and Safety, which can only be obtained by a licensed contractor.

Consider contacting the GreatBuildz staff if you desire to expedite the process of locating a reputable, licensed contractor for SB 326 repairs. They have established a network of local, pre-screened general contractors and can quickly connect you with three contractors who meet your requirements.

SB 326 compliance is crucial for ensuring the safety and well-being of condo owners and the longevity of a condominium complex. By adhering to the steps indicated in this guide and collaborating with a qualified contractor, you can confidently navigate the complexities of SB 326.

When it comes to planning and coordinating SB 326 inspections and repairs, you shouldn’t have to go it alone. GreatBuildz is a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Orange County with reliable, thoroughly screened SB 326 contractors and provides project support from start to finish.

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