Owner Alert: More Building Code Changes

Wooden apartment balconies will require periodic inspections in California by 2025.

If you’re an owner or investor in an apartment building or an officer in a home owners association, which at the time of sale met all the building code requirements with all the paperwork in order, you might think that’s the end of the story.

Think again because, unfortunately, building and civil codes in California and elsewhere have a way of evolving and changing over time, which frequently requires new inspections and property maintenance.

A case in point: We were recently asked to evaluate an HOA community’s buildings and see if they were affected by California SB 721 and/or Civil Code Section 5551.

The bill (approved by the Governor on September 17, 2018) requires an inspection of “exterior elevated elements and associated waterproofing elements… including decks and balconies for buildings with three or more multi-family dwellings…” These inspections are to be performed, by a licensed engineer or architect, by a qualified building contractor, or by a qualified building inspector, before January 1, 2025.

The bill applies to apartment buildings, but not to hotels/motels and “common interest developments” such as HOA’s. The bill, however, authorizes a local governing entity to enact stricter requirements, and some will do so before the SB721 deadline.

Exterior elevated elements that are subject to this requirement include those building elements that are supported (in whole or substantial part) by wood members, are more than 6-feet above the ground surface, are outside the building envelope, and are designed for human occupancy or use.

Although Senate Bill 721, does not apply to “common interest developments,” Civil Code 5551 states the following “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.” The inspections must be visual inspections of a random and statistically signification sample of exterior elevated elements and associated waterproofing systems. Like Senate Bill 721, the inspections must take before January 1, 2025.

The buildings at this development are two- and three-story living units with exterior patios for each unit. The balconies are wood-framed, outside of the building envelope, and are all more than 6-feet above the ground surface. The balconies are supported by the exterior wall of the building, and on wood timbers and posts. These elements of the development satisfy the definition of “exterior elevated elements”.

These buildings are condominiums, so it therefore falls under Section 5551 and will require inspection. This condominium development is subject to the provisions of Civil Code Section 5551 and will, therefore, require the visual inspections described in the code.

No matter whether you are an owner or investor in any type of property with wooden structures, such as balconies or patios, don’t defer maintenance because it only costs more later. This year’s particularly late and very wet rainy season is a good example of a situation with the potential to damage wooden structures.

A structural inspection by a licensed engineer offers a number of advantages. With years of education, training, licensing and certifications, licensed engineers are qualified experts who know what building inspectors will consider unsafe and what fixes will be acceptable. You’ll eliminate headaches, save time and most likely money too.

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