2019 California Law Requires Inspection of Apartment Complex Structures

Author: Robert Bernstein

January 7, 2019 9:00am

On June 16, 2015, shortly after midnight, the balcony of an apartment complex collapsed killing 6 young people who were attending a 21st birthday party.  It was later determined the balcony had shown signs of water damage which was not addressed and that it collapsed as the result of wood rot in structural support beams. In addition to new laws which require contractors and their insures to report judgments and settlements in construction defect cases involving residential rental complexes (California Business & Professions Code Section 7071.20, etc.), as of January 1, 2019, California also requires the periodic inspection of balconies and other structural components in residential rental projects.

California Senate Bill 721, which was recently signed by Governor Jerry Brown, applies to residential rental projects which have three (3) or more units. The new law, codified as California Health and Safety Code, Section 17973, requires that destructive testing be performed every six (6) years on at least 15% of each type of load-bearing, wood framed exterior elevated element (such as balconies, walkways and stair landings) present in the building.

The statutes states the following:

The purpose of the inspection is to determine that exterior elevated elements and their associated waterproofing elements are in a generally safe condition, adequate working order, and free from any hazardous condition caused by fungus, deterioration, decay, or improper alteration to the extent that the life, limb, health, property, safety, or welfare of the public or the occupants is not endangered.

The inspection must be paid for by the building owner. It must be performed by a licensed construction professional, although it provides some flexibility in selecting an inspector.  Section 17973 allows the inspection to be performed by a licensed contractor, architect, civil engineer or structural engineer.  The inspection may also be performed by a certified building inspector or building official from a recognized state, national, or international association.

California Civil Code Section 1954 is amended pursuant to the Senate Bill such that landlords are expressly authorized to enter into dwelling units and other spaces in residential rental buildings in order to perform required inspections and necessary repairs.

At the time of a required inspection, if an inspector concludes that any conditions require “emergency” repair, such repairs must be done immediately.  For repairs which are deemed necessary but which do not require immediate action, a permit application must be submitted within 120 days of the inspection and the repair must be completed within 120 days of the permit’s issuance.  If repairs are not completed within 180 days, civil penalties of $100-$500 per day may be imposed.

If an equivalent inspection was performed within 3 years of January 1, 2019, the effective date of the new law, prompt inspections are not required, however, subsequent/follow-up inspections must be performed every 6 years from the date of the last inspection. If inspections are not completed prior to the effective date for the new law, the required inspections must be completed by January 1, 2025 and every 6 years after they are done.  For a building converted to condominiums that will be sold after January 1, 2019, the required inspections must be performed prior to the first close of escrow. Common interest developments (i.e. condominiums) are exempted from this new inspection requirement, which applies to residential rental projects.

We will monitor the application of this new law and report on any relevant cases or amendments to the statute, as well as any issues which arise with regard to the required inspections and repairs.

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