Last Updated on July 13, 2022 by Dan Cronk
If you serve on the board of a residential homeowners’ association (HOA) in California, it’s important to understand the requirements of California’s balcony laws, including Senate Bill 326 “SB 326” (Davis-Stirling Act | Civ. Code § 5550 )
At Deck and Balcony Inspections, Inc., we help California HOAs remain compliant with California’s balcony laws by conducting thorough SB 326 inspections and providing detailed reports.
We wrote this guide to help you understand the requirements of SB-326 so you can avoid costly building department fees, enforcement costs and potential liens against your properties.
Let’s get started.
What is SB 326 and Why Was this Law Passed?
On June 16, 2015, six students were killed in Berkeley, California and seven others were injured when the balcony they were on collapsed.
The Berkeley balcony collapse resulted in the passage of California Senate Bill 326 on August 30th, 2019.
This HOA balcony law, an amendment to Civil Code Section 5551, was designed to prevent future collapses by ensuring the structural stability of condominium decks, balconies, and walkways.
The law applies to all HOAs or condominium complexes with at least three attached units.
What are the Requirements of SB-326?
Some of the requirements of SB-326 include the following:
- Covered HOAs must complete initial SB-326 inspections no later than Jan. 1, 2025.
- Subsequent inspections must be completed at least once every nine years.
- Inspections must be completed by licensed structural engineers, architects, licensed general contractors, or certified building inspectors.
- All exterior elevated elements (EEEs) “supported in whole or in substantial part by wood or wood-based products” that are 6 or more feet off the ground must undergo inspections.
- The waterproofing systems for each EEE must also be inspected.
- Under SB-326, inspectors are required to visually inspect a “statistically significant sample” (defined as enough units to provide “95 percent confidence that the results from the sample are reflective of the whole, with a margin of error no greater than plus or minus 5 percent”) of a building’s EEEs. The exact number of EEEs inspected will depend on the size of your building.
- After a visual inspection, the inspector determines whether further testing is warranted and is required to report any imminent dangers to life and safety to the city’s building department and the HOA board.
- The inspector must prepare a signed, detailed report and present it to the HOA board with the repair recommendations.
- The HOA board must then budget for the repairs and complete them.
The report must include the following types of information:
- Identification of the specific building elements that were inspected
- The present physical condition of the inspected elements
- Whether the inspected elevated exterior elements pose any dangers to the safety and health of the residents
- The expected service life and future performance of the inspected elements
- Types of needed repairs, including emergency and non-emergency repairs. Any emergency repairs that endanger the health and safety of the public will promptly be referred to the building department’s code enforcement agency. Non-emergency repairs will be reported to the condominium association’s board.
You must include the inspection report in your reserve study and keep copies of your inspection reports for a minimum of two inspection cycles.
The nine-year balcony inspections will coincide with every third reserve study.
You should also make sure that you do not have more stringent requirements from your local government authority or within your governing body documents.
What Happens if You Don’t Comply With SB-326?
If you don’t comply with the new law, the code enforcement arm of your local building department can assess fees, recover enforcement costs, and enforce liens against non-compliant properties.
Additionally, failing to complete the required SB-326 inspections and repairs could expose you to liability.
If the inspections are not completed, condo owners could lose their liability protection extended by their insurance companies for personal injury claims.
This means that if any person is injured while using or occupying any of the association’s exterior elevated elements, the association will likely bear the financial responsibility of any civil judgement and will not have the benefit of coverage under their association’s insurance policies.
Who Can Perform an SB-326 Inspection?
All SB-326 inspection findings must be visually observed and confirmed by a licensed architect or engineer.
If repairs are needed, the person completing the inspection cannot also be the party performing the repairs.
What Methods Are Used During an SB-326 Inspection?
Here are some of the common methods and tools used when we perform our SB-326 inspection service:
1. Visual Inspection
The visual inspection is the first and most important component of an SB-326 inspection.
The inspector will visually inspect the exposed surfaces of all of the load-bearing elements, their attachment points, guardrails, and how the various components integrate.
However, if the building’s wood frame is covered by siding or stucco, a visual inspection will not be enough to comply with the requirements of SB-326.
2. Endoscopic testing
At Deck and Balcony Inspections, Inc., our preferred inspection method is endoscopic testing because it is less invasive than destructive testing, which is expensive, messy, and loud.
With endoscopic testing, we bore small holes in the soffit’s underside and use endoscopic cameras called borescopes to visually inspect the concealed wood’s interior condition.
Once this type of inspection is completed, we plug and seal the small holes with specially designed plugs that are air and watertight.
3. Moisture Sensors
Using moisture sensors allows us to check for moisture intrusion. This helps us to identify the potential for dry rot so that maintenance and repairs can be completed to prevent it.
4. Infrared Imagery
Infrared imagery can be helpful for visually inspecting exposed surfaces. However, since infrared technology uses wavelengths that are beyond human vision, it cannot be used to inspect wood that is concealed beneath another surface such as vinyl siding or stucco.
What Happens During the SB-326 Inspection Process?
When you request an SB-326 inspection from Deck and Balcony Inspections, Inc., the process will involve the following steps.
1. Free Consultation and Estimate
After you fill out our form or call us, we will schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with you. During your consultation, we will review your needs and then provide you with an estimate.
2. Perform Inspection
If you accept our estimate, we will schedule your inspection at a time that is convenient for you. Our licensed general contractors and engineers will perform the inspection.
The law requires that a percentage of the total number of balconies and their wood structures be inspected. The external elevated elements will be randomly selected for inspection.
Deck and Balcony Inspections, Inc. performs inspections and provides reports about the conditions mandated under the law. This includes an inspection of the condition of the exterior elevated elements and their waterproofing systems.
It also includes an evaluation of their expected service life and performance and an identification of all emergency and non-emergency repairs that are needed.
We will confirm whether various areas are in a safe condition and perform according to the applicable regulations and standards.
If we notice any damage to the building’s waterproofing or load-bearing elements that pose an immediate risk of danger to the public, we are required to report it to the city’s code enforcement agency within 15 days of the report under Cal. Civ. Code § 5551(5)(g)(1).
3. Provide Report
Once we complete your SB-326 inspection, we will draft a detailed report.
Our reports are available either in a PDF format or as an online, interactive report. The interactive report allows you to update once you have completed the repairs and have become compliant.
Our reports are broken down by color-coding to make them easier to understand as follows:
- Red– immediate action needed
- Yellow– Repairs should be completed as soon as possible
- Blue – Maintenance required
- Green – No problems identified
Why Choose Us for Your SB-326 Inspection?
At Deck and Balcony Inspections, Inc., we thoroughly understand the requirements of SB-326 to help you stay compliant and avoid costly penalties.
We provide a smooth inspection process and simple to understand, comprehensive reports that you can update with the maintenance and repairs as they are completed.
Our interactive reports provide you with the following benefits that make them superior to others:
- Provide up-to-date, comprehensive information
- Costs 20% less than traditional PDF-only reports
- Interactive maintenance guides and reports allow you to update when repairs are completed
- Allows you to develop a long-term relationship with us
- Allows you to avoid 9-year reinspection fees
Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute – Schedule Your Professional HOA Balcony Inspection Today!
The deadline for complying with SB-326 is quickly approaching. You must complete your initial compliance inspection before Jan. 1, 2025.
Because of the vast number of condominium complexes throughout California, waiting until the last minute might mean that you will have to be placed on a lengthy waiting list and fall out of compliance with the law.
Avoid fees and penalties by booking with us now. Deck and Balcony Inspections, Inc. will inspect your entry structures, walkways, stairways, decks, balconies, and more. We serve all of California, from San Diego to Redding and from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe.
Request a FREE estimate today: 916-238-0618
Dan Cronk is the Founder & President of Deck and Balcony Inspections, Inc. Dan has 40+ years of experience in the construction industry. As a certified structural inspector and general contractor, Dan has extensive knowledge about California’s deck and balcony laws and enjoys sharing his expertise with the community.