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SB721 Balcony Bill Is Law: Now What?

May 22, 2019

As many of you are aware, California Senate Bill 721 is an issue we have been following closely for the last couple of years. Signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown last September and made effective January 1, 2019,

SB721 aims to prevent catastrophic balcony collapses like the one in Berkeley in 2015 by mandating regular inspections of exterior elevated elements (EEEs) by qualified professionals to ensure their structural integrity over time.

The balconies and decks impacted by SB721 are common features in most multi-family buildings in California, and consequently, there will be a great number of projects that will be impacted by this new inspection requirement. To better understand how local jurisdictions are approaching this issue, we reached out to Afsaneh Ahmadi, deputy director/chief building inspector for the City of San Diego’s Development Services Department.

The goals of our meeting were to (1) better understand the City’s perspective and approach to the new law, (2) discuss whether the City planned to implement stricter requirements beyond those outlined in SB721, and (3) present the innovative inspection methodology that Xpera has developed to facilitate the new inspection requirements.

While our meeting was intended as a listen-and-learn session, we were also able to share an informational presentation explaining our Balcony Assurance Service.

Our unique approach is designed as an efficient, cost-effective alternative to more expensive destructive testing. (In anticipation of the bill’s passage, we have been field testing the process with local building owners over the past year to quite positive results.)

It was a very productive conversation and we appreciate Ahmadi taking the time to share her insights with us. Here are a few key takeaways from the meeting:

  • With regard to EEE inspection protocols, she explained that she and the City would not be taking a position on the viability of Xpera’s Balcony Assurance Program or any other programs from a means and methods standpoint. However, she stated that cameras are commonly used for visual documentation and that she did not see any issues with their use in this situation. (It is important to note that this was intended as a general statement only, and not an endorsement of our process, given her stated position of neutrality.)
  • We asked for clarification on the section of the law stating that 15% of each type of EEE shall be inspected. We wanted to know what happens if damage is found in that first 15% sampling. Do we continue sampling and, if so, for how long? Or do we instead need to move to 100% inspections? At this time, the City does not have any guidance on this matter. She suggested this is something to be worked out directly with the client instead. Other jurisdictions may take a different approach. This is something we’ll need to watch.
  • In terms of what happens when a repair situation is identified during an inspection, we learned that the person/firm conducting the inspection is not required to report the incident to the City building department. Instead, that process will occur when the applicant applies for a building permit.
  • SB721 includes language that authorizes local governing entities to enact stricter requirements than those provided by the bill. Ahmadi informed us that the City has no plans to create a stricter law at this time, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen in the future. She believes they will wait and see how the new law plays out before taking any further action at the City level
  • According to Ahmadi, her department will not be charged with enforcement of SB721. There is no budget for dedicated staff resources do so and there are no plans for the City to catalog buildings for compliance, as the City of Berkeley has done.

We’ll continue to follow this issue closely and see how other local officials address enforcement within their own jurisdictions. Learn more about California Senate Bill 721 and the inspection requirements in our Exterior Elevated Elements FAQs.

To learn more about VERTEX’s Balcony Assurance services or to speak with an Expert, call 888.298.5162 or submit an inquiry.

This article was originally published by Xpera Group which is now part of The Vertex Companies, LLC.

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