SB 721 Guide – California Balcony Inspection Law

If you’re an apartment building owner or property manager in Los Angeles or Southern California, you need to be aware of the new California state law – SB 721, which has requirements you need to meet before the end of 2024. Due to some very unfortunate accidents in the past involving multifamily decks, balconies & porches, the state of California now wants to ensure that these ‘exterior elevated elements’ pose no danger to residents.

So, in general, the law now requires multifamily owners to hire specific qualified inspectors to validate the safety of elements including balconies, decks, porches, stairways, walkways, and entries that are 1) elevated more than 6 feet above the ground, 2) are designed for human use, 3) are made of wood structure supports and 4) extend beyond the exterior walls of the building. This also includes the railings and supports of these various elevated elements.

This guide will provide the details for apartment owners to adhere to these SB 721 law requirements.

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 721 repairs – here are some ideas & tips to get you started.

SB 721 Inspections

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Per the new law, an apartment building owner must have these elevated elements inspected before the end of 2024 and every six years thereafter. An owner or property manager would hire a qualified balcony inspector – this person would be a licensed architect, civil or structural engineer, building contractor, or building inspector.

The inspector will be hired to inspect a ‘sampling’ of various elevated elements at the apartment complex to determine if there are any issues with waterproofing that are causing damage by fungus, decay, deterioration, etc. The inspector will initially do a visual inspection of all the elements, looking for clues of problem areas.

The law indicates that a random sampling would include 15% of the total decks, balconies, etc. in the complex.

If there are signs of water intrusion or damage, the inspector may then proceed to do more intrusive testing which could include using a boroscope, moisture meter, infrared testing or even exposing the area by removing the exterior stucco.

The inspector would then provide their report to the apartment owners and property managers. The report would specifically call out those elements that are in good shape, those that will need maintenance and have a limited service life, and those areas that currently pose a danger to tenants and must be repaired immediately.

The law also requires that any report that finds significant damage that poses an urgent risk to occupants will have to be submitted to the local enforcement agency (In Los Angeles: LA Housing Department or the Department of Building and Safety).

SB 721 Inspection Cost

The cost of an SB 721 balcony inspection is approx.. $300-500 per balcony, deck, or other elevated feature (visual inspection). Keep in mind every inspector will have their prices based on their general billing rates. Structural engineers could cost more than architects, etc. Depending on the size of your complex and the number of elevated elements, it’s likely that an SB 721 inspection might cost you between $5,000-$20,000.

If the inspector sees signs of damage or water intrusion and they need to do more invasive inspections and analysis, you can expect each balcony in-depth testing might cost upwards of $3,000. An engineer may even need to bring a contractor or specialist to expose (remove stucco) sections of the balcony to truly assess the damage and repair requirements.

SB 721 Repair Requirements

Any elements that are found to be an immediate threat or hazard must be repaired immediately by the owner. The property management must also prevent access to the dangerous area by occupants. These urgent conditions must be repaired immediately, re-inspected, and reported to the enforcement agency.

Other inspection findings that are not an urgent threat must be handled in the following timeline: The owner must pull a permit for the work within 120 days of inspection and start the work within 120 days of receiving the permit. If the work is not completed within 180 days, the enforcement agency will have the right to levy fines against the property and even file a “building safety” lien.

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SB 721 Repairs

Once your SB 721 inspection is complete, you have a sense of the condition of your balconies, decks, and elevated elements. But, remember, you’ve only had 15% of these structures inspected. So, it’s likely that whatever conditions the inspector found in this sampling, you’ll have similar issues throughout your apartment building or multifamily complex.

And if you have maintenance requirements on a portion of your balconies and decks, you are quite likely to need the same maintenance on most or all of your units.

The next step in meeting SB 721 requirements is to find and hire a deck & balcony contractor to review the inspection and your building conditions. The inspector you used cannot be hired to do the actual repairs. So, you need a licensed, qualified, experienced general contractor in Los Angeles. This is the only type of contractor qualified to do a major project like this.

An SB 721 contractor in Los Angeles should be someone who is experienced working on Multifamily properties, with the ability and staff to work on projects with structural wood, waterproofing, stucco, and siding elements. Not every contractor is equipped with the scaffolding or lift equipment to perform work on projects more than two floors above the ground.

SB 721 Repair Costs

Decks, Balconies, and other elevated areas are exposed to the elements; sun, wind, rain, etc., and therefore develop wear over time if not maintained properly. Also, as the building and the ground beneath it shift due to soil conditions and earthquakes, areas of stucco or other waterproofing elements may develop cracks or gaps that allow water to intrude.

Balconies and decks are specifically built with a series of waterproofing elements including flashing, membranes, coatings, and sealants to prevent water intrusion, dry-rot, termite damage, etc. But even this system of protection doesn’t last forever if not properly maintained. Like a roof, these areas need to be maintained or rebuilt after a certain number of years.

SB 721 repair costs will vary greatly based on the amount of repair and maintenance required for any specific apartment building or multifamily community. It might cost over $5000 for just one balcony to be rebuilt if it’s in dire condition. Alternatively, if an entire complex of decks needs some maintenance, the entire cost could be $20,000 or less.

Keep in mind that balconies that have deteriorating structural elements like the wood support beams will likely require a full reconstruction. This process is rather intrusive as the balcony will need to be rebuilt starting from within the building’s exterior walls.

Why SB 721 – Decks and Balconies Can Be Dangerous

Decks, Balconies, and other similar structures are certainly designed, engineered, and built to withstand common use by the occupants of an apartment building. But these are two factors that can create potentially dangerous conditions. First, these elements are cantilevered, which means they protrude from the main structure and don’t have direct support from underneath. Second, they are constantly exposed to the elements (like a roof) and need to be maintained to ensure that rain, termites, mold, etc. don’t intrude and affect the underlying structural elements, the wood beams.

There is another issue with decks and balconies. They just don’t get a lot of attention. With other elements of a structure like a roof, it becomes rather obvious when there is an issue because the occupant gets water intrusion into the unit. So, roofs get urgent attention and repairs. The same goes for other areas of the structure like stucco or wood elements. But balconies and decks are outside, so they don’t attract the same kind of urgent attention when there’s water intrusion, etc.

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SB 721 and the LA Housing Department

It appears that the LAHD will be the enforcement agency for the new SB 721 requirements. According to their website, the SB 721 inspector will have to submit a report to them if either 1) there are urgent dangerous conditions evident at the property or 2) if the owner has not repaired non-urgent conditions within 180 days or report completion.

If there are no corrective actions called out by the report, it doesn’t need to be submitted to LAHD.

SB 721 Balcony & Deck Problem Signs

Sometimes balcony damage can be hidden, but oftentimes, there are reasonably clear signs that a deck needs repairs or at least some maintenance. The following are signs that there could be structural damage: large cracked or gaping stucco areas, balcony sagging or separation from the building walls, areas of standing water, bubbling or cracking of the walking surface, or soft spots where you step.

SB 721 Repair Estimates in Los Angeles

Once an apartment owner has the inspection report in hand, they can use this as a starting point to meet with repair contractors. Keep in mind, again, that the inspection only reviewed a limited number of balconies…so if some percentage of your balconies have damage, you can assume that the remainder also have similar damage and need similar repairs. So, when you meet with contractors, ask them to review ALL the elevated elements in your community and not just the small percentage that was inspected.

If the inspector doesn’t call out urgent repairs, you can also separate your apartment complex into phases with your contractor. For example, you might have them provide a bid/estimate for just the balconies that were inspected and start by making those repairs. You can then have the contractor review and estimate the next set of balconies, etc.

Alternatively, if you want to know what you need to budget for this project upfront, you’ll need to have a contractor bid the entire complex, both the balconies that were inspected and all the ones that weren’t. This will take your contractor more time to accomplish as they will need to look at every balcony.

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SB 721 Contractors in Los Angeles

Having safe balconies is a matter of importance and safety for your tenants and you want to make sure all balcony repairs are done correctly. SB 721 balcony repairs must be done by a reputable, local general contractor with an A, B, or C-5 license from the state of California. Only these kinds of general or framing contractors are qualified and equipped to perform this type of repair.

Your general contractor should be experienced with apartment remodeling or repairs, have an active contractor’s license, and maintain both General Liability and Worker’s Compensation Insurance. You might also want to consider how long any potential contractor has been licensed, as you don’t want to take a risk on someone new to the business. Other steps you can take in vetting a potential contractor can be found on the GreatBuildz Vetting Page, a systematic list of the process GreatBuildz takes to screen our contractors.

Hiring a handyman, unlicensed contractor, or day worker to make SB 721 balcony repairs would be a huge mistake. You don’t want the risk and liability involved if their repairs are faulty. Plus, you want to be able to show any government entity, insurer, tenant, etc. that you performed all balcony repairs with the proper SB 721 contractor. It is quite likely that your SB 721 repairs could require a city permit from the Department of Building and Safety, and only a licensed contractor will be able to secure it.

If you want to streamline the process of finding a reliable, licensed SB 721 contractor, you can speak with the staff at GreatBuildz. We’ve built a network of local, vetted general contractors and can instantly match you with three great contractors that fit your needs.

 

When it comes to planning SB 721 repair projects, you shouldn’t have to go it alone – GreatBuildz can help simplify your renovation experience.

 

GreatBuildz is a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura or San Diego with reliable, thoroughly screened general contractors and provides project support from start to finish. Call now (818.317.3567) to chat with a real person about your next balcony repair project or visit our website for more information: www.greatbuildz.com

Hi, we're Paul and Jon - Co-Founders of GreatBuildz. We believe everyone deserves to find a great contractor, have a stress-free renovation, and enjoy their beautiful new space. There are so many contractors out there and it's often hard to tell the good from the bad... until it's too late. We started our company to help simplify your contractor search and help you have a stress-free renovation experience. We're always available to help, no matter where you are in the process. Click here to learn more about our story.
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