Deadly Berkeley Deck Failure Leads To Mandated Condo Inspections

On June 16, 2015, in Berkeley, California, 13 students gathered on a balcony when it collapsed killing six and injuring seven. Why did it collapse? Architect Robert Perry identified the cause of collapse “as dry rot damage, along the top of the cantilever balcony deck joists.”

A result of the collapse was the creation of new California Legislation SB 721 affecting 3 million apartments. The HOA industry was spared. This year, condos were included in SB 326 (California Civil Code Section 5551), outlining mandatory deck inspections not just for decks but all Exterior Elevated Elements (EEEs).

All condo communities must inspect decks, balconies, stairways, walkways and their railings if they are “supported by wood or wood-based products, have a walking surface designed for human occupancy and are over six feet in height.” The inspection includes flashings and waterproof membranes.

Before we discuss a community manager’s role, let us review the law (5551):

WHO DOES THE INSPECTION?

A registered architect or structural engineer.

WHAT EEEs TO INSPECT?

The inspector “or a statistician” shall generate a random list of the locations of each type of EEE.

HOW MANY EEES TO INSPECT?

Inspect enough EEEs to achieve 95 percent confidence that the results from the sample are reflective of the whole.

WHEN TO INSPECT?

Inspections are to be performed no later than January 1, 2025 and every 9 years thereafter. (We suggest it’s done in advance of your next Reserve Study update-site visit.)

WHAT INFO DOES THE REPORT CONTAIN?
  • Identification of the load-bearing building components and associated waterproofing system.
  • The current physical condition of the load-bearing components.
  • The expected future performance and remaining useful life of the load-bearing components.
  • Recommendations for necessary repair or replacement of the load-bearing components.
  • Report shall be stamped or signed by the inspector, presented to the board, and incorporated into the reserve study.
WHAT IF PROBLEMS ARE DISCOVERED?

If building conditions indicate unintended water or vapor has passed into the waterproofing system, creating the potential for damage, then the inspect or may conduct a further “intrusive” inspection.

WHAT IF SAFETY HAZARD(S) ARE FOUND?

If immediate threat to the safety of the occupants is found, inspector shall provide a copy of the

report to the association immediately, and to the code enforcement agency within 15 days of completion of the report. The association shall take preventive measures immediately, including preventing occupant access to the EEE until repairs have been inspected by the enforcement agency.

WHO PAYS FOR COSTS TO ENFORCE 5551?

The Association.

WHEN MUST SUBSEQUENT INSPECTIONS BE CONDUCTED?

Every 9 years; subsequent inspection commences with next EEE on the list.

WHO SHALL MAINTAIN AND REPAIR?

The continued and ongoing maintenance and repair of the load bearing components and associated waterproofing systems in a safe, functional, and sanitary condition shall be the responsibility of the association as required by association’s governing documents.

MORE STRINGENT INSPECTION AND MAINTENANCE REQUIREMENTS?

The association board or the local enforcement agency may enact rules imposing requirements greater than those imposed by 5551.

THE UNDERLYING ISSUE: WATER

Water regularly contacting wood leads to its premature deterioration. Standing water on deck surfaces accelerates damage to waterproof membranes allowing water intrusion to wood. That is why pooling or standing water on decks, landings, flat roofs and railings must be prevented. Building codes call for all decks to be sloped away from the building so water runs away.

THE COMMUNITY MANAGER’S ROLE

As a community manager, your role in making sure the association meets these new requirements can be broken down into three steps.

1. DEVELOP YOUR INSPECTION PLAN.

Read the law, then assemble a “deck team” to include reserve analyst, inspector and attorney (to ensure compliance with the law). Then, work together to develop your deck inspection, plan and budget:

  • Select team: manager, reserve analyst and inspector.
  • Develop your budget.
  • Contract with qualified inspector.
  • Assist inspector to obtain access to community and decks.
  • Develop a plan for repairs and replacement of affected EEEs.
  • Reserve analyst to add “contingent” line item for items such as repairs and/or maintenance (deck coating) that arise from the inspections.
  • Develop a plan for maintenance of EEEs in conjunction with your Reserve Study.

2. MEET WITH THE BOARD AND HOMEOWNERS.

Next, present your plan and budget to the board and get approval. Then, present the plan to the homeowners at your next open forum. Homeowners will want to know why inspections are taking place, how it will impact them and what happens after the inspections. A good proactive presentation to your homeowners is important.

3. FOCUS ON THE MAINTENANCE.

The new law states “continued and ongoing maintenance and repair of the load-bearing components and associated waterproofing systems…shall be the responsibility of the association.” By planning and budgeting inspection sand maintenance, you can mitigate and possibly eliminate future expensive repair and replacement work.

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