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Senate Bill 721: How apartment owners should prepare for first inspection

Travertine tiles on balcony, waterproofed with Clear Waterproofing Membrane by Remedial Membranes
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If you own an apartment building, it’s essential to stay up-to-date with the laws and regulations that govern its maintenance and safety.

One such important legislation is Senate Bill 721 (SB-721), which focuses on the inspection and maintenance of exterior elevated structures in apartment buildings. Once the inspection is carried out, any repairs that need to be done cannot be done by yourself but instead require the qualified contractor, which if you are trying to save money in this financial climate can add to the stress.

This article will guide you through the preparation for the first inspection mandated by SB-721. We will explore the key aspects of the bill, the inspection process, and the necessary steps to comply with the requirements. And identify how to can make some general easy repairs yourself to save you money.

Join us as we delve into the essential information and practical tips to navigate the SB-721 inspection process smoothly. Let’s ensure the structural integrity of your building and create a secure living environment for all.

What does Senate Bill 721 say? A summary.

Senate Bill No. 721, also known as Chapter 445, is a law that amends existing building standards in California.

It requires the inspection of decks, balconies, and other exterior elevated elements of buildings with three or more multifamily dwelling units with a timber frame support or what can be referred to as lightweight construction.

The inspections must be performed by licensed professionals, such as architects, engineers, or certified building inspectors. The purpose of the inspections is to ensure that these structures are safe and free from hazards.

The law specifies the items that should be included in the inspection report and requires the report to be given to the building owner within 45 days of the inspection.

The inspections must be completed by January 1, 2025, and subsequent inspections should take place every six years.

If the inspection reveals immediate safety risks, the owner must be notified within 15 days, and emergency repairs must be carried out.

The law also allows local enforcement agencies to recover costs associated with enforcing these requirements. If repairs are not completed on time, the owner may receive a corrective notice and face penalties and liens on the property.

The law excludes common interest developments from these requirements.

Additionally, if a building is being converted into condominiums, the required inspection must be conducted before the sale, and the inspection report must be submitted to relevant authorities.

The law also gives landlords the right to enter a dwelling unit to comply with these inspection requirements.

What triggered SB-721?

Senate Bill 721 was triggered by a tragic incident that occurred in 2015 in Berkeley, California. A balcony of an apartment complex collapsed, resulting in the death of six students and injuring several others.

This incident highlighted the need for stricter regulations and inspections of exterior elevated structures, such as decks and balconies, to ensure their safety.
In response to this tragedy, the California legislature passed Senate Bill 721 in 2018 to establish mandatory inspections and maintenance requirements for such structures in multifamily buildings. The goal was to prevent future accidents and protect the residents and occupants of these buildings.

Why does the Bill only cover timber frame of lightweight construction?

Firstly, the collapsed balcony was a timber framed balcony. But the main reason is that concrete and steel don’t rot like timber, that can create a life-threatening environment.

“Repair of Timber framed balconies amount to more than 75% of the repairs we carry out”, says Shaun Abbott of Remedial Membranes LLC. “Timber framed balconies are built to move without failure, but the solid structures that are put on top are not built in a way to move. It is the equivalent of having rigid skin over your skeleton. It will crack due to movement of what is below. Because the waterproofing membrane is directly adhered to the solid substrate, when it cracks, so does the membrane (membranes need voids created in other products to elongate). Once those cracks appear, water gains access to the timber frame. When timber is constantly wet, it will start to rot, which removes its structural integrity and can become life-threatening.”

5-Step Inspection process: How is the inspection done?

The inspection process involves a thorough assessment of all structures above ground level including balconies, decks, walkways, and stairways.

You, as an apartment owner, must hire a qualified and licensed inspector who specializes in evaluating the safety and structural integrity of elevated structures. It is crucial to ensure that the inspector has relevant experience and expertise in conducting these types of inspections.

Here is a general overview of how the inspection is typically conducted:

  • Inspection Scope
    The inspector will assess various aspects of the exterior elevated structures, including the construction materials, fasteners, connections, load-bearing capacities, waterproofing, and overall stability.
  • Physical Examination
    The inspector will physically examine the exterior elevated structures, checking for any visible signs of damage or structural issues.They may use specialized tools or equipment to access hard-to-reach areas and perform detailed inspections looking for any sign of deterioration, rot, decay, termite damage, rust, and other potential hazards.
  • Testing and Analysis
    In some cases, the inspector may conduct additional tests to assess the strength and stability of the structures.This may involve load testing, moisture testing, flood testing or other diagnostic procedures to identify any hidden issues that may not be apparent during a visual inspection.
  • Inspection Report
    Once the inspection is complete, the inspector will provide a detailed report that outlines their findings, including any identified deficiencies or safety concerns. The report will typically include photographs, descriptions of the issues, and recommendations for necessary repairs or corrective actions.
  • Compliance and Remediation: Based on the inspection report, apartment owners are responsible for addressing the identified deficiencies and ensuring compliance with the safety standards outlined in SB-721.

This may involve engaging contractors or professionals to perform repairs, replacements, or reinforcement of the affected structures.

Who has to comply with SB-721?

Under SB-721, the requirements apply to all owners of multifamily residential buildings in California that have three or more units and have exterior elevated structures such as balconies, decks, and stairways with timber frames structures.

This includes apartment complexes, condominiums, and other similar residential buildings.

The owners of these buildings are responsible for complying with the mandatory inspection and maintenance requirements outlined in the bill.

The purpose of these requirements is to ensure the safety and structural integrity of the exterior elevated structures and protect the residents and occupants of these buildings from potential accidents or collapses.

Is there an inspection deadline?

Yes, there is an inspection deadline specified in SB-721. According to the bill, the first inspection of the exterior elevated structures in covered buildings must be completed by January 1, 2025.

After the initial inspection, subsequent inspections are required to be conducted at least once every six years.

Some cities even have earlier deadlines:
If you own a house in San Francisco, April 1st, 2022 was the deadline for deck & balcony inspections under San Francisco Housing Code Section 604 and you are now risking hefty fines and penalties.

For owners with property in Berkley, the deadline passed May 31, 2022.

What happens if I miss the inspection deadline?

If you, as a building owner, fail to meet the inspection deadline specified in SB-721, you may face consequences and potential penalties. The clock is already ticking, with most inspectors completely booked for the next 6 months.

The exact consequences can vary depending on the specific regulations and enforcement measures in place within the jurisdiction where the building is located.

It may result in fines or citations issued by the relevant authorities. These penalties can increase over time if you continue to neglect the required inspections.

Moreover, the failure to conduct timely inspections can have legal and liability implications for the building owner. If an accident or injury occurs due to a structural issue that could have been identified and addressed through the mandated inspection, the owner may face legal action and be held responsible for any resulting damages.

Damage Prevention: Regular Balcony and deck maintenance

Damage prevention through regular balcony and deck maintenance is essential for ensuring the safety and longevity of these elevated structures. By implementing a proactive maintenance routine, apartment owners can minimize the risk of structural problems, reduce the likelihood of costly repairs, and create a safer environment for residents to enjoy.

Here is how you can carry out your own inspection and repair prior to the inspection keeping in mind that repairs that are listed by the inspector will need to be carried out by a building professional and you will not be able to carry them out yourself. For the purpose of this article we will focus on tiled balconies with a timber frame substrate.

Start with a visual inspection inside your house. Do you notice a musty smell? Any water marks, wet spots or mold?

Next, take a look at the area outside, below your balcony. Do you see any eveidence of damage or watermarks?

Once you have reviewed these items it’s time to inspect the balcony itself. Remove everything off your balcony, if possible. If not, move everything to one side and do it in two sections. Don’t do this half-heatedly as your building inspector will be thorough, too.

If you have any loose tiles, remove them, take off the adhesive and check if the substrate is spongy. In this case, you need a professional to see the extent of the water damage.

Clean your balcony, ideally with a pressure washer, to remove all loose grout, usually a result of movement of the frame below. Also clean the over flow of the aluminum window frames to allow for proper drainage.

Now, do you see cracks in the grout joints?

Or cracked tiles?

Do you have any efflorescence (white limescale that appears on the outside of the balcony)?

These are all signs of movement and need your attention and repair!

efflorence on tiles

Start with tackling efflorence:
To remove efflorescence, you can try to use Hydrochloric Acid. Be sure to ewar required PPE, when doing so. Watch the process here:

Make sure you thoroughly dilute the acid before you wash it down any drains or into the garden. Make sure to rinse the surface twice more than you think you should to remove any residue.

Then replace any missing grout. This video shows you the DIY process:

Once you repaired the existing water damage, you have to make sure, it does not happen again. For an easy over tile DIY solution, consider this paint-on tile waterproofing membrane.

When all repairs are completed, you can bring furniture and plant pots back. To ensure adequate drainage, add pads to the bottom of your furniture and plant pots.

Now that the the flooring area has been completed it is time to inspect the vertical sections of your balcony.

Painting or Staining: If your balcony or deck is painted or stained, periodically inspect the finish for signs of peeling or cracking. Repaint or re-stain the surface as necessary to maintain its protective properties and enhance its appearance.

Structural Integrity: Keep an eye on the overall structural integrity of the balcony or deck. Look for any sagging or unevenness and ensure that support beams, joists, and connections are in good condition. If you notice any concerning signs, seek professional advice.

By incorporating these maintenance practices into your routine, you can prolong the life of your balcony or deck and minimize the likelihood of significant damage or safety hazards


You understand SB-721 now, and can proactively address these guidelines and carry out your own repairs if needed in advance of the inspection. This way, as an apartment owner you will not only maintain the safety and well-being of your residents, but also avoid potential penalties and costly legal liabilities.