Elevated Structure Inspections

Starting January 1, 2020, condominium associations, including townhomes, with buildings that have three or more units must inspect elevated load-bearing structures which are supported substantially by wood. (Civ. Code §5551(l).) The inspector must submit a report to the board providing the physical condition and remaining useful life of the structures and their associated waterproofing systems. The statute does not change who is responsible to maintain, repair or replace balconies or other elevated structures. It imposes inspection and repair obligations on homeowner associations as to balconies and/or elevated structures which associations are already obligated to maintain, repair or replace.

The required inspections apply to load-bearing components and associated waterproofing systems. Load bearing means those 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 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. (Civ. Code §5551(a)(3).) 

  • Cantilevered balconies constructed of wood must be inspected.
  • Balconies supported by wood posts require inspection.
  • Balconies supported by the main structure do not require inspection since they cannot collapse.
  • Balconies partly supported by the structure and partly cantilevered require inspection.
  • Exterior stairs and landings attached to wood require inspection.
  • Elevated walkways supported by wood structures must be inspected.
  • Balconies made entirely of concrete and steel do not require inspection.

Elevated structures that do not require inspection under Civil Code §5551 still require a diligent visual inspection as part of any reserve study. This includes concrete balconies.

Homeowner associations must complete their first inspection before January 1, 2025. Thereafter, elevated structures must be inspected at least once every nine years. (Civ. Code §5551(b)(1).)

The inspections must be conducted by a licensed structural engineer or architect. (Civ. Code §5551(b)(1).) The inspector must inspect a sufficient number of units 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. (Civ. Code §5551(a)(4).) The association's reserve study professional should be notified when the inspection occurs since the result could impact the cost allocations for particular line items in the study. 

Since inspections are directly related to reserves needed to repair elevated structures and because the definition of "replacement cost" includes related expenses, inspection costs can be included in an association's reserve budget. 

The inspector must submit a report to the board of directors specifying the current physical condition and remaining useful life of the load-bearing components and associated waterproofing systems. The report must be submitted to the board immediately upon completion of the report, and to the local code enforcement agency within 15 days of completion of the report. (Civ. Code §5551(e).) The inspector's report must be kept by the association for at least two inspection cycles. (Civ. Code §5551(i).) 

If the inspector advises that an exterior elevated element poses an immediate threat to the safety of the occupants, the association must take preventive measures immediately upon receiving the report, including preventing occupant access to the exterior elevated element until repairs have been inspected and approved by the local enforcement agency. (Civ. Code §5551(g).)

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