SB721 for Apartment Owners

About California Senate Bill 721 (SB721) and Frequently Asked Questions

California Senate Bill 721 (SB721) 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.

Q:  What are Exterior Elevated Elements?

A:  Exterior Elevated Elements are load-bearing components together with their associated waterproofing system.

Q:  What are load-bearing components?

A:  Load-bearing components are 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, that have a walking surface elevated more than six feet above ground level, that are designed for human occupancy or use, and that are supported in whole or in substantial part by wood or wood-based products.

Q:  What are associated waterproofing systems?

A:  Associated waterproofing systems include flashings, membranes, coatings, and sealants that protect the load-bearing components of Exterior Elevated Elements from exposure to water.

Q:  When does the first inspection have to be completed?

A:  The first inspection must be completed prior to January 1, 2025 and then every six years thereafter.

Q:  I have three and a half years to get the first inspection done. What is the urgency?

A:  Given the number of communities and Exterior Elevated Elements throughout the State it will become increasingly difficult and expensive to schedule the required inspections and contractors to make any necessary repairs resulting from those inspections.

Q:  Do all Exterior Elevated Elements at each community need to be inspected?

A:  The law requires inspection of at least 15 percent of each type of Exterior Elevated Element. This means not all elements will be inspected and the number of elements inspected will vary based on the total number of elements at each community. Elements are selected randomly using a validated random selection process.

Q:  What does an Exterior Elevated Element inspection entail?

A:  Each selected element must be inspected to determine the overall condition of the load-bearing (structural) components. This includes support framing that extends beyond the exterior wall of the structure, walking surfaces, attachment points, hardware, railings, and the associated waterproofing systems. Associated waterproofing systems include flashings, membranes, coatings, and sealants that protect the load-bearing components of the Exterior Elevated Element from exposure to water.

Q:  What does the inspection report include and who receives the report?

A:  Based upon the inspections, the inspector shall issue a written report containing the following information for each inspected element:

  1. The identification of the building components comprising the load-bearing components and associated waterproofing system.
  2. The current physical condition, including whether the condition presents an immediate threat to the health or safety of the occupants.
  3. The expected future performance and projected service life.
  4. Recommendations for any necessary repair or replacement of the load-bearing components and associated waterproofing system.

The written report must be presented to the Owner of the building within 45 days of completion of the inspection. If the inspector advises that the Exterior Elevated Element poses an immediate threat to the safety of the occupants, or that preventing occupant access or emergency repairs, including shoring, are necessary, then the report shall be provided by the inspector to the Owner of the building and to the local enforcement agency within 15 days of completion of the report.

Q:  Do all dwellings need to be inspected?

A:  Only buildings containing three or more multifamily dwelling units need to be inspected.

Q:  This sounds more like a structural inspection. Why are you concerned with waterproofing details?

A:  SB721 requires an evaluation of the associated waterproofing systems. Water intrusion is a leading factor in degradation and damage of wood-based products, and this becomes significant when it affects the structural components of an Exterior Elevated Element. A key factor in the Berkeley deck collapse that precipitated the passage of SB721 legislation was unmitigated water intrusion and decay of the structural members of the deck. For context, that deck was merely five years old.

Q:  How do you complete the inspection?

A:  The Pacific InterWest team evaluates a community prior to beginning inspections. The process includes a review of the Exterior Elevated Elements by type and construction. For open-framed elements, the inspection is visual and will include a moisture reading probe of the elements. Closed soffit elements require penetration of the soffit in each joist bay at both outboard and inboard locations so the concealed structural elements can be assessed. This is done using a high-definition borescope. The number of inspection portals is relevant to the size of the element. The basic inspection portal is approximately one-inch wide, however if the soffit is not vented, the option of a larger portal with venting is available.

Q:  What if the Owner wishes to inspect all of the elements in the community? Does the law limit the number of Exterior Elevated Elements that can be inspected?

A:  The law only sets the minimum number of Exterior Elevated Elements to be inspected, not the maximum. Both the local jurisdiction (by enacting an ordinance or other rule) and Owner may impose greater requirements.

Q:  What happens if you find damage?

A:  Damage to the structural elements can be classified as minor, moderate, or major. If in the opinion of the Pacific InterWest Building Inspector the damage cannot be properly evaluated using just the borescope, the exterior cladding must be removed to the extent the element can be properly evaluated pursuant to SB721 requirements. If the damage is major and the element is at risk of failure, the element is declared an immediate hazard and access to the element is restricted. SB721 requires written notification to the Owner and Building Official having jurisdiction within 15 days of the determination of an immediate hazard.

Q:  I need repairs. What do I do?

A:  Pacific InterWest is prohibited from engaging in the repair of damage identified during SB721 inspections. However, in addition to the SB721 compliant inspections, we can provide repair design, bid document preparation, permitting, construction management, and course of construction (repair) inspections to ensure repairs are completed in compliance with design details, code, and product manufacturer specifications. This provides the Client with a turnkey package.

Q:  The details of SB721 can be overwhelming. How do we get started?

A:  Pacific InterWest provides support, planning, budgeting, and cashflow projections to the Owner or designated Owner’s representative. PIW can also make presentations and provide answers and information about SB721 to community management staff and residents.

PIW Apartment Inspection Services van parked outside a residential community with inspectors working on nearby balconies
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