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MANDATORY BALCONY INSPECTION: SB326

Updated: Feb 28

EXTERIOR ELEVATED ELEMENTS (BALCONY) INSPECTIONS

The information below was reposted from the Davis-Stirling website.


Inspections Required. Beginning January 1, 2020, condominium developments with three or more units per building must inspect elevated load-bearing structures supported substantially by wood. (Civ. Code § 5551(l).) The inspector must submit a report to the board providing the structures' physical condition and remaining useful life and associated waterproofing systems. The statute does not change who is responsible for maintaining, repairing, and replacing balconies or other elevated structures. It imposes inspection and repair obligations on HOAs as to balconies and/or elevated structures that associations are obligated to repair and replace.


Waterproofing Systems. Water intrusion into balconies, decks, and other elevated structures is the primary factor causing damage to the wood that supports those structures. It has led to the collapse of many structures around the nation, including the Berkeley balcony that killed six college students and seriously injured seven others. Water intrusion can quickly lead to dry rot and the loss of structural integrity, which is why waterproofing must be inspected.


Dry Rot Defined. The term "dry rot" is a misnomer. Wood does not rot when it is dry. For decay to occur, moisture must be present for fungi to feed on wood. Like viruses and bacteria, fungal spores are microscopic and travel through the air. The spores act as seeds that grow when they land on moist wood products. When they plant themselves into wood, they feed on the wood's cellulose. Cellulose is what gives wood its strength. As the fungi consume cellulose, the wood weakens. Without moisture, fungi cannot grow; thus, the importance of keeping all waterproofing systems well-maintained. That is why the Davis-Stirling Act requires a thorough inspection of waterproofing components such as flashings, membranes, coatings, and sealants. (Civ. Code § 5551(a)(1).)


Maintenance and Repairs. Fungi (like termites) spread throughout a structure as they feed on wood. As a result, dry rot can be difficult to treat. To stop the destruction, all decayed wood and fungi must be removed. The longer it goes untreated, the weaker the wood becomes until it collapses without warning. See: Balcony Maintenance & Repairs. Also see Common Area Maintenance as well as Exclusive Use Maintenance.


Exterior Elevated Elements Defined. Required inspections apply to load-bearing components and associated waterproofing systems. "Load-bearing" means (i) those components that extend beyond the exterior walls of the building to deliver structural loads to the building from decks, balconies, stairways, walkways, and their railings, (ii) that have a walking surface more than six feet above ground level, (iii) that are designed for human occupancy or use, and (iv) are supported in whole or in substantial part by wood or wood-based products. (Civ. Code § 5551(a)(3).)


Deadline for Inspections. Associations must complete their first inspection before January 1, 2025. Thereafter, elevated structures must be inspected at least once every nine years. (Civ. Code § 5551(b)(1).)


Architect/Engineer and Reserve Analyst. The inspections must be conducted by a licensed structural engineer or architect. (Civ. Code § 5551(b)(1).) 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. (Civ. Code § 5551(a)(4).) The association's reserve study professional should be notified when the inspection occurs since the result could impact the cost allocations for particular line items in the study. Below is a list of inspection companies readers sent to us. Boards should have legal counsel review any proposed contracts.


Borescopes. Inspectors are allowed to use the least intrusive method necessary to examine load-bearing components, including visual observation in conjunction with moisture meters, borescopes, and infrared technology. (Civ. Code § 5551(a)(5).)  The advantage of a borescope is that only small holes are drilled into the stucco, which are easily patched. However, it is sometimes difficult for the scope to see signs of water infiltration and deterioration of the framing. Often, the better approach is to open the underside of balconies so an inspector can easily see the structural elements. Some inspectors use both inspection methods, depending on the particular project and the condition of the structures.


Inspection Costs. To achieve the 95% confidence level required by the bill will be expensive. It is estimated that most associations should expect costs in the range of $5,000 to $20,000. The total cost will depend on the number of elevated structures inspected to achieve the high confidence level required by the bill.Using Reserves. Because inspections are directly related to reserves needed to repair elevated structures and because the definition of "replacement cost" includes related expenses, inspection costs can be included in an association's reserve budget. Using reserves for such purposes would not be deemed a borrowing.


Inspector's Report. The inspector must submit a report to the board of directors specifying the current physical condition and remaining useful life of the load-bearing components and associated waterproofing systems and whether they are an immediate threat to the health and safety of residents. The report must also include recommendations for any necessary repairs. (Civ. Code § 5551(e).) The report must be kept by the association for at least two inspection cycles (18 years). (Civ. Code § 5551(i).)


Immediate Threat to Safety. If the inspector finds that the exterior elevated element poses an immediate threat to the safety of the occupants, the inspector must submit the report to the board immediately and to the local code enforcement agency within 15 days of completion of the report. The association must take preventive measures immediately upon receiving the report, including preventing occupant access to the exterior elevated element until repairs have been inspected and approved by the local enforcement agency. (Civ. Code § 5551(g).) Local enforcement has the ability to force immediate repairs, even if that requires an emergency special assessment


Contracting for Inspections and Repairs. Contracts prepared by vendors can sometimes be skewed to protect the vendor. This is normal but not particularly beneficial to the association. Before signing any contracts, boards should make sure legal counsel reviews them.


Inspection Companies. Below is a list of companies that perform inspections of elevated structures. The information was sent to us by readers of our newsletter and should not be construed as our endorsement of the performance of any of the companies listed below. Before hiring a company, boards must perform their due diligence and make sure the company is licensed and insured. In addition, boards should have legal counsel review all contracts before signing them.

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