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SB 721 & SB 326

In this post we break down what they are and how they affect the HOA world.

SB 721

California Senate Bill 721 was enacted in response to the 2015 tragic deck collapse in Berkeley. The collapse of the deck at the Library Gardens Apartments resulted in the deaths of six people and serious injury to seven more. SB721 legislation requires inspection of all Exterior Elevated Elements (EEE) of apartment communities prior to January 1, 2025 and every six years thereafter.

“This bill would require an inspection of exterior elevated elements and associated waterproofing elements, as defined, including decks and balconies, for buildings with 3 or more multifamily dwelling units by a licensed architect, licensed civil or structural engineer, a building contractor holding specified licenses, or an individual certified as a building inspector or building official, as specified."

The bill covers not just “Balconies” or “Decks” and their associated supports and railings, but all “Exterior-Elevated-Elements” which is notably broadly defined to include “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 6’ 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 and “all associated waterproofing elements”

The inspections address structural integrity, flashings and waterproofing of these elements on buildings with three or more units and two or more stories in height. All initial inspections must be completed by January 1, 2025. Inspections will be performed on any external building element six feet above ground level including walkways, balconies, decks, landings, stairways and railings. On larger complexes, the law allows for 15% of the respective elements to be inspected as a representative sampling.


SB 326

California Senate Bill 326 applies only to Exterior-Elevated-Element evaluations at condominium facilities: “This bill would require the association of a condominium project to cause a reasonably competent and diligent visual inspection of exterior elevated elements, defined as the load-bearing components and associated waterproofing systems, as specified, to determine whether the exterior elevated elements are in a generally safe condition and performing in compliance with applicable standards. The bill would require the inspector to submit a report to the board of the association providing specified information, including the current physical condition and remaining useful life of the load-bearing components and associated waterproofing systems.”

The differences between the evaluation requirements of SB 721 (apartment buildings) and SB 326 (condominiums) are striking. In particular, while the maximum inspection period for SB 721 is “every six years”, under SB 326: “a reasonably competent and diligent visual inspection” must be carried out “at least once every nine years” (except, for new common interest buildings “for which a building permit application has been submitted on or after January 1, 2020”, the initial EEE inspection shall occur “no later than six years following the issuance of a certificate of occupancy.”

Further, in contrast with SB 721, SB 326 requires that such visual inspections (using “least intrusive methods”) must encompass “a random and statistically significant sample of [each type of] exterior elevated elements” in order “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.” This startling requirement will substantially increase the costs and extent of investigations, while potentially imperiling the merits and quality of the results.

Consider that using standard statistical analysis, minimum sample sizes to achieve a 95% confidence level with a 5% margin of error include: 95%

Minimum sample size (95% / 5%) for 20 identical decks or balconies is 20.

Minimum sample size (95% / 5%) for 30 identical decks or balconies is 28. Minimum sample size (95% / 5%) for 50 identical decks or balconies is 45. Minimum sample size (95% / 5%) for 100 identical decks or balconies is 80. Minimum sample size (95% / 5%) for 200 identical decks or balconies is 132.

Additionally, consider a common interest complex with 200 decks and balconies: 100 Type A and 50 Type B decks, and 30 Type C and 20 Type D balconies. Under SB 326, the minimum sample size necessary to achieve a 95% confidence level with a 5% margin of error is 173 (80+45+28+20) decks and balconies.

SB 326 requires associations to conduct visual inspections of exterior elevated elements and load-bearing components six feet above ground, including: balconies, decks, patios, and elevated walkways. It’s required that a Licensed Structural Engineer or Architect generate a report summarizing the findings, which should then be included in the association’s reserve study.

Inspections are required regularly, and the bill outlines different timelines for both existing associations and newly built condo buildings. For existing HOAs, the first inspection of Exterior Elevated Elements needs to be completed by January 1, 2025. Subsequent inspections need to be completed once every nine years in coordination with the reserve study inspection.

For new condo associations, any new building that had a building permit application submitted after January 1, 2020, the first inspection deadline for newly constructed condos is within six years of getting issued a Certificate of Occupancy. Subsequent inspections have the same cycle as existing buildings (once every 9 years).

The main must-know requirements for SB 326 are:

  • The inspector must be either a licensed structural engineer or architect

  • The bill requires inspecting a “random and statistically significant sample” of EEEs (95% confidence, error margin ± 5%).

  • The bill defines the inspection process explicitly, including defining the term “visual inspection” and permits the inspector to use professional judgment to conduct further inspections

  • The written report must be stamped by the inspector

Looking for someone to perform your next inspection? Reach out to Champion Property Services today and we will work with you in staying compliant with the latest deck and balcony laws!


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