You Have Issues, Regardless of What Happens with SB721

Regardless of what happens with Senate Bill 721, you still have balcony and walkway issues you need to deal with.

I’m preaching, so brace yourselves.

I know that California Senate Bill 721 (SB721) is a hot topic in HOA circles right now. Many HOA’s resent the fact that, once again, Sacramento is going to be dictating a new set of policies and requirements that HOA’s (and apartment owners) will have to spend money to comply with. I feel your pain, and I hate government regulations that impact me (and my wallet) as much as anyone else. But I also go onto a lot of HOA and apartment properties and I have to tell you, the condition of the balconies, exterior walkways, staircases, and other exterior wood elements is often shockingly bad.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, let me show you some of what I am talking about:

This is one of my current favorite pictures. The black is mold and rot, the brown is rust. This used to be plywood, but so much water has come through that when you walk on the surface above this location it feels spongy. It is absolutely unsafe to walk on.

balcony underside

Same property, but different location. This is a 6×12 structural beam, that supports the top of the stairs and about ¼ of the balcony. The top half of the beam end is totally rotted away, and this extends almost the entire 5’ length of the beam.

balcony support beam

On a different property (I’m equal opportunity in this stuff), this is a wood framed exterior walkway to the unit entries. The picture shows the top landing at the concrete stairs where it transitions to the plywood deck. The deck coating has failed, especially along the edge and you can see both that the plywood is deteriorating, and if you look closely, you can also see all the nails holding the deck together are rusting away (the dark dots). I took one step onto this deck and jumped back, once again it was spongy and very soft. Shockingly, this is the walkway to the front entries of the four units in this building and the softness extended for over 10’ down this walkway. Nothing was visible from below. The underside was covered in stucco which had been repainted because it was discolored (likely from the moisture intrusion from above).

walkway edge

I’m not saying that every HOA (or apartment complex) has these issues, but in my experience, many do. Some are more subtle than the above, but equally worrisome. If your complex is more than 10 years old, you need to be making sure that all exterior wood structural systems are being inspected. If you cannot do it, hire an outside consultant who can. You cannot fix a problem that you do not know about or are ignoring, and you do not avoid liability for “not knowing” about a bad condition. In each of these three examples, the solution will involve structural replacement which is going to cost many, many times more than ongoing maintenance would have. For more on “deferred maintenance”, see our article, You Know What They Say About Assumptions.

The key takeaways are these:

  1. Know the condition of your facilities, especially the wood structural elements exposed to the weather.
  2. Have a maintenance program to keep these systems in good working order. If maintenance has not been getting done or has only been band-aid fixes, then prepare for the check to come due and for the cost to be significant.
  3. Remember that if SB721 passes, you will be mandated to do all this anyway.