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More than Balconies - California’s Balcony Inspection Law SB721

The deadline for the SB721 Balcony Inspections is January 1st, 2025

On June 16, 2015, six people died and seven others were severely injured in a tragic residential balcony collapse in Berkeley, California. Structural analysis revealed that the wood framing of the balcony was severely weakened by dry rot from rainwater penetration due to improper sealing of the balcony to the main building. The investigation confirmed the balcony failure was due to rotted wood, which significantly weakened the structural framing. Water and heat combined caused the growth of fungus, which ate through the structure of the balcony. This condition is common, especially for buildings in the Bay Area. The building was only 8 years old.

California Senate Bill 721 (SB721) was signed into law in 2018 and took effect in January 2019. The statute requires the building owner to hire a qualified structural engineer, architect, or contractor for necessary inspections to determine whether specific building elements are in safe and functional condition.

What kind of multifamily buildings need to be inspected per SB721?
The statute requires the evaluation of any building with three or more multifamily units that contain wood-framed exterior elevated elements, such as balconies and stairways. The law does not specify a date of construction, so even new buildings must comply.

More than Balconies - California’s Balcony Inspection Law SB721

Diagram of exterior elevated elements.

What needs to be inspected?
The law requires the evaluation of at least 15 percent of exterior elevated elements (6 feet above ground level), load-bearing components, and associated waterproofing elements evaluated by direct visual examination or comparable means. Note that the inspection requirement extends to a minimum of 15% of the total number of elements, not 15% of buildings or units. Exterior elevated elements, also known as EEEs are wooden elements including balconies, decks, porches, stairways, walkways, and entry structures that provide structural support, designed for human occupancy, and more than six feet above ground level need to be inspected.

Please refer to the glossary of terms for definitions.

Who can perform balcony inspections?
Building owners can seek licensed professionals for an inspection. This includes the licensed architect, civil, or structural engineer, General Contractor holding A, B, or C-5 licenses, with at least 5 years of experience in constructing multistory wood frame buildings, or a certified building inspector or an official not employed by the local jurisdiction while performing these inspections.

What happens after the inspection?
The inspector will provide a written report of the evaluation to the building owner. The report will address the current condition of the exterior elevated elements, expectations of future performance and projected service life, and recommendations for any further inspection necessary. Building owners should keep the inspection report for no less than two inspection cycles (12 years). Inspection reports shall be disclosed to the buyer during the sales transaction.

What should I do when an immediate repair is required?
A hazardous condition caused by either fungus, deterioration, decay, or improper alteration detected through a field inspection, will trigger an immediate repair. When the building poses an immediate threat to the safety of the occupants, the area should be closed off for public access. The inspector will notify the building owner, and the owner shall take corrective repair actions. Specific timelines for reporting, permitting, and repair apply.

CA Balcony Inspections SB721 Fact Sheet

What does an inspection entail?
SB721 requires destructive inspection, meaning they will need to chip away past the surface of the external elevated element to evaluate the framing beneath. Inspectors will visually inspect at least 15% of the load-bearing components and waterproofing elements using instruments such as a borescopes camera.

What should I expect from a field inspection?
A typical inspection involves two inspectors entering units with equipment and a ladder. Inspectors will determine where holes are necessary and drill accordingly. The drill is loud but only lasts a second per hole. Once the inspector is satisfied, holes are temporarily plugged to prevent water intrusion until permanent patches can be installed.

What size hole will need to be drilled?
Each hole is typically ¾ inches in diameter.

What timeframe does this work need to get done?
The deadline is 1/1/2025 and every 6 years thereafter.

How long does it take to get someone out to the property?
Upon engagement, someone will reach out within a week to schedule a field visit, which may be 1-2 weeks out or longer depending upon the inspector’s availability.

How long does it take to receive a report?
The inspector has 45 days to present the findings to the owner of the property. However, if immediate repairs are needed, then the inspector has 15 days to present a report to the property owner and give a copy to local code enforcement.

What are the common issues found?
Properties with poor maintenance tend to have more issues with water getting inside the waterproofing envelope.

What qualifies for immediate action once an inspection is completed?
Severe rot, damage, or leaning are typical signs of imminent danger to safety. If any such issues are identified, the owner will be instructed to prevent all access to the dangerous area(s) until repairs can be made.

Does an inspector need to come out to sign off on completed repairs?
No, the law does not require this, but some inspectors do insist on re-inspection.

What should I do with my inspection report?
Property owners must keep the inspection reports for at least 2 inspection cycles. If the building is sold, the inspection reports must be provided to the buyer. Local code enforcement can also ask for a copy of the inspection report.

Glossary of Terms

  • Elevated exterior elements

An exterior elevated element means the following types of structures, including their supports and railings: balconies, decks, porches, stairways, walkways, and entry structures that extend beyond exterior walls of the building and which have a walking surface that is elevated more than six feet above ground level, are designed for human occupancy or use, and rely in whole or in substantial part on wood or wood-based products for structural support or stability of the exterior elevated element.

  • Associated waterproofing elements

Associated water proofing elements include flashings, membranes, coatings, and sealants that protect the load-bearing components of exterior elevated elements from exposure to water and the elements.

  • Load-bearing components

Load-bearing components are those components that extend beyond the exterior walls of the building to deliver structural loads from the exterior elevated element to the building.

California’s Balcony Inspections SB721 Webinar

If you own multifamily property with three or more units in California, your building is likely subject to balcony inspections (SB721). Building owners are responsible for engaging qualified providers to complete inspections by January 1, 2025. Haven’t a clue what to do to get prepared? View this webinar recording and get prepared for these essential items.