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Answer:  There isn’t a minimum or a maximum requirement for the inspection, per se’. The intent of the legislature is to ensure the structural integrity is such that residents are safe. What this means in terms of inspection is identified in the specific laws.

  1. CA5551 This law is specific to HOA/ Condo/ Townhomes. Where there are more than 3 units per building. The structure must be made of wood framing to be considered a candidate of the inspection requirements.
  2. Quoted from the law – “Visual inspection” means inspection through the least intrusive method necessary to inspect load-bearing components, including visual observation only or visual observation in conjunction with, for example, the use of moisture meters, borescopes, or infrared technology.
  3. The least invasive method of inspection should ALWAYS start with a Visual Inspection. This means, don’t cut or bore into the structure unless you are sure cutting or boring is necessary, and many times it’s not!
  1. Associated waterproofing systems” include flashings, membranes, coatings, and sealants that protect the load-bearing components of exterior elevated elements from exposure to water.
  2. Exterior elevated elements” mean the load-bearing components together with their associated waterproofing system.
  3. Load-bearing components” 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 elevated more than six feet above ground level, that are designed for human occupancy or use, and that is supported in whole or in substantial part by wood or wood-based products.
  4. The Visual Inspection should always start with a visual review of the stairs, decks, railings, and waterproof systems.
  1. There are two laws governing these inspections. For an HOA / Condominium, The law states “Statistically significant sample” means a sufficient number of units inspected 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.
  2. For Apartments, a minimum of 15 % of the Exterior Elevated Elements should be inspected. This 15 % is derived from a random list generated by the inspector.
  3. HOA / Condo. Statistical sampling: This is not as simple as saying 15 decks or walkways out of 100 and a statistical sample is not a simple average or percentage, in fact, a statistical sample it’s a much more complex analysis and one most people do not readily use or even understand how to create. In essence, it’s a determination of 1.) Population size.  ) Margin of Error or Confidence Interval. 3.) Confidence Level.  4.) Standard Deviation.
  4. WOW!!!!, so complicated, and what a hassle! Wouldn’t it be easier to simply say 90-95% of every element needs to be inspected?  Statistical sampling is a complex process that most people don’t want to deal with, especially when most inspectors, including Deck Inspectors, believe it’s in the best interest of the consumer to inspect 100% of the Exterior Elevated Elements (EEE). Why? Because a 100% inspection of the Exterior Elevated Elements provides a baseline for the condition of the property at the time of inspection and all future inspections, and also provides the consumer with a more complete or full understanding of all conditions encountered by the inspector. That said, if a sample (statistical or average) is used for this critical inspection, there could be easily one, two or a dozen or more Exterior Elevated Elements (EEE’s) that are currently failing, and if unchecked may cause injury to property or persons.
  5. From a cost perspective, the value of the 100% visual inspection far outweighs the possibility of injuries sustained because of deteriorated or damaged Exterior Elevated Elements (EEE(s)), which has gone unchecked or unnoticed through a statistical average method and the dread lawsuits from owners and residents who are injured as a result.
  6. At Deck Inspectors, we believe a full review of the Exterior Elevated Elements helps to provide a better Reserve Study, one that truly defines the life of the elevated structures, namely the balcony decks, and as we all know, the Reserve Study includes replacement values, driving the HOA dues, up or down.
  1. Borehole testing can be an invaluable tool for inspectors and should not be ruled out, however, it sounds like the borehole testing estimate you received did not consider the first rule of inspection, which is to perform a visual inspection as the least invasive method. Also, most “unqualified” inspectors use the concept of boreholes as a means of exploiting the inspection process and selling more for less. Let me explain: Let’s say you have a deck that is 10 feet wide by 5 feet deep (the outside edge length is 10 feet and the length. t the inside wall is also 10 feet, or simply, a rectangle). The structure is likely wood framed, with the framing extending beyond the building walls to the outside edge of the deck. This framing is also likely to be constructed so that the joists supporting the deck are 16 inches apart or closer. Hope you are still with me? Now we know the length and width of the deck, what we need to know is how many holes and how far apart they need to be drilled under the deck to visibly inspect the structure using the borehole method. In this example, the inspector would need to bore 10 holes on the outside of the deck and 10 holes close to the building walls, and 5 holes on each side of the deck joist, at minimum. Counting the holes, you now have at least 25-30 holes in the ceiling below the deck. Now let’s consider the wood blocking and the framed walls. Every structure (if built correctly and per code) has blocking at least four feet away from the wall. This means you now must add another 10 holes on each side of the blocking. This is a ridiculous number of holes for sure, however using the concept of the engineering company, boring close to 45-50 holes in the deck just to see if the structure is damaged is the only alternative they have provided.  Imagine the cost to repair the 3,750 boreholes (50 holes x 75 units). Not a problem if you are Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or Bill Gates.
  2. Our suggestions to resolve your economic concerns are as follows:
    a. Start with a Visual Inspection ONLY. Don’t be swayed by the contractor, engineer, or inspector who says it’s best to inspect the structure using boreholes.
    b. Assess each element to determine if the structure has any signs of deterioration or damage, or more telling would be signs of leaks such as water stains or sagging and buckling surfaces.
    c. Once the visual inspection is complete, review the Exterior Elevated Surfaces visual report with the inspector and determine which elements need further inspections.
    d. If there are areas of water stains under the decks, or bucking decks, we recommend the removal of the deck surfaces to inspect the structure because there is a 95% chance the deck surface is failing and will need to be removed to repair the structure anyway, so why pay more to drill holes under the deck.

A comprehensive Visual Inspection report would visually look at the Elevated Elements without boring or cutting into the surfaces or structure. The elements are any structure supported by wood that is 6 feet or more off the ground and extends beyond the exterior walls of the building. Essentially and wood structure that is exposed to the elements, namely rain, dew, and fog. The report should have photos of the elements (deck, stairs, walkways, railings), for each unit being inspected. The report should also provide for an assessment of the condition and based on that assessment, the expected life of the element. For example, a deck that is sound, shows no signs of leaks, and is well maintained, should have a useful life of 4 years at minimum, however, a deck with cracks, signs of leaks, and or buckling and failure of the waterproofing indicates much bigger problems with the structure. These types of concerns may lead the inspector to say the element has a useful life of 0 years, the visual report should clearly indicate if the deck, stairs, railings or any elevated structure being inspected needs to be looked at using an invasive method, such as boring holes, cutting, removal of surfaces, etc.

An invasive report like the visual report, however, an invasive report takes a deeper look into the structure. This method of inspection is critical if the inspector believes the waterproofing or metal integrations have been breached or if other signs of structural failure are occurring, such as sagging beams, rusting metal, and buckled decks. An invasive report should not be used to determine if the deck meets current building codes, however, on occasion, an inspector may cite an improper construction resulting in damage where the building codes were not followed at the time of construction. The invasive inspection will also document what damage has occurred and the repairs necessary to make the element safe. For example, an Invasive Report may say to remove the damaged wood and replace it with a something of like kind, or the Invasive Report might say to contact an Architect or Engineer to correct the deficient building design or construction and in the worst case, the Invasive Report may say the structure and all pedestrian traffic must be blocked. What an Invasive Report should not include is a method of complete repair, unless the owner/client requests this information as part of the report and all building codes are followed.

A Final Report is simply a report summarizing the visual and invasive reports and the correction or repairs made as part of the inspection process.

  1. If the inspector finds any conditions where he/she feels the safety of the resident, or any pedestrian is at risk. This is a subjective standard and one the owner/resident should take seriously.
  2. The Inspectors’ opinions are just that, they are professional opinions, therefore it’s advisable to contact the local building and safety departments and ask a building official to review the inspectors’ concerns. Alternatively, you can have another qualified inspector review the safety concerns and offer an opinion, either way, the condition should be looked at very seriously. Example of a safety condition. A few years ago, as I was inspecting balcony decks on apartment projects, I pushed slightly against the balcony railing. The railing fell to the ground, fortunately, I didn’t. In another instance where the railings are made of wood, I found small signs of dry rot in the wood pickets. When I wiggled the pickets, the pickets fell off, leaving a large hole where children can fall. Interestingly, the property manager was appalled that we noted these issues as safety concerns and even got a second opinion, and guess what, the second inspector was so concerned he called the local building and safety department and asked that they inspect. The building and safety department red-tagged the decks until all railings had been removed and replaced to the new building code standards.
  1. For an HOA / condo, all inspection reports are submitted to the Board of Directors for Inclusion in the Reserve study as required by Davis Stirling Act.
  2. For an Apartment of Commercial, the inspection report is submitted to the owner for their retention.

Generally speaking, CA 5551 law (HOA and Condo) or HS 17973 (Apartments) inspections are not charged with inspecting code violations, however, this does not mean, an inspector will not notice a violation of the code has led to damage to the structure. The intent of the law is to ensure the safety of people accessing or occupying the Elevated Elements. For example, where balcony railings are improperly constructed which causes damage to the structure, or where there are missing or damaged elements of the railings, such as bolts and pickets.

For example, a building may have been constructed in 1960 or 1970(s) when building codes were different than they are today. If the structural element is not damaged and does not pose a health or safety concern, the inspector would not note a violation in the report.  Another example, a few days ago I was performing an inspection and the property manager asked if the railings had to be replaced. The railings were 40 inches high, and the pockets were 6 inches apart. The building was built in the late ’70s. Because the codes allowed this type of construction, and the railings are safe and sound, the inspection would not find the railing required removal. On the other hand, if the railings were rotting and failing, the inspector would call to replace the railing and meet current building standards and codes.

Not generally unless the railings and their physical conditions pose a safety issue.

First, we need to understand what an element is. For example, a balcony deck is an element. The waterproofing and sheet metal components used in the construction of the deck are also elements. A wood railing is an element as are the handrails, the pickets, and the mounting hardware. Most inspection companies and inspectors would consider a “stair assembly” as an element, vs. each item used to construct the stair assembly. On rare occasions, the inspection may only look at the mounting hardware for the railing.

This is not the correct procedure for these inspections. In fact, the law specifically states, to use the least invasive method of inspection, however, the inspector may also see the most economical and least damaging method to inspect may be using a borescope. An example is where the structure is wood with a waterproof membrane applied with a concrete walking surface. If there are signs of damage and leaks under the deck, the inspector may suggest boring holes below the deck, however, this testing may also prove to be more costly.

Tile, like concrete, limits the ability of the inspector to assess the waterproofing and metal flashing from the top of the deck surface. In this case, the inspector should first visually assess the structure to determine if there are any signs of leaks, damage, or failure. The inspector should also assess the integrity of the tile and stone. For example, if the tile and stone are cracked, lifting, buckled, or loose. If any of these conditions exist, the inspector may request the tile be removed in select areas to inspect the waterproof membrane and structure below. In this example, a borescope would be less effective than an invasive investigation from the top of the deck surface.

When an inspector cites in his report, the railings are too low, he may be concerned with improperly constructed railing versus the railing height code limits at the time of construction. For example, today’s building codes require a 42-inch-high railing and pickets 4 inches on center-wide, this was not the same as building codes in 1960, 1970, or 1980 as such, unless the railings are unsafe, the railings would not need to be replaced. If they are replaced, the new railings must meet local or state building codes. If the inspector does cite the railings as too low, ask the inspector if the condition is code-related or damage-related concerns. If code-related concerns, contact your local building and safety and ask if the railings must be replaced or if they are not damaged if they can remain.

This is a great question, one that we get every day. When Deck Inspectors performs an inspection, we try extremely hard to ensure we document all conditions which, in our opinion, are affecting the integrity of the structure or can lead to damage to the structure because this is what the client is paying. Because our reports and those of all others inspection companies and inspectors are opinions of our findings, they are always subject to challenge and discussion. For example, often our reports point out a condition that should be addressed or resolved; however, the reader of the report does not clearly understand what the inspector is stating or the options that may exist to resolve the findings, therefore, if the inspector’s report cites cracks in the waterproof traffic coating and to replace or repair the coating, he may only be asking for the repair for the crack, versus the replacement of the entire deck coating. Conversely, the entire deck may be damaged, and replacement may be the only viable solution to the repair. This is when a discussion should occur, and a second opinion may be necessary. We have also experienced owners arguing the deck has never leaked when clearly there is no waterproofing and stains on the underside of the deck show leaks are occurring. This is the same with railings when the owner does not wish to repair the railing, they will argue no railings have ever fallen. The point is the inspector is hired by the client to assess the property. It is the duty of the inspector to diligently inspect the structure and inform the owner of his findings. If the owner determines that repairs are not feasible and does not perform the repairs, the owner would be negligent if an injury to person or property occurred. So, yes, the opinions of the inspector can be challenged through the opinions of another inspector or building official.

I am on the Board of Directors for a 60 unit HOA. We are located in San Lusi Obispo. Does your company provide inspections in San Luis Obispo?

Yes, we perfom inspections throughout California.

  1. Yes, Architects, Engineers, Contractors, and some ICC Inspectors are all licensed through the State of California, however, there is no one specific licensing body to cover these inspections. If you have a complaint about an inspector, contact the company that employs the inspector or the licensing agency responsible for that inspector’s license.
  2. At this time, all inspectors are self-monitored and constrained by the license of the inspector. For example, where an architect is licensed, he would not be able to perform certain engineering projects. Where a General Contractor is licensed, he could not perform as an Architect.
  1. If you are an apartment owner, the law provides you time to have the inspection performed, and the inspection (must be completed by 2025). The repairs, if non-emergency type, require a permit to be obtained within 120- days of the report and 120 days after the permit is approved to make the repairs.
  2. If the repairs are of an emergency nature, posing a threat to the safety of the occupants, the owner shall perform repairs immediately, which includes blocking access to the structure until the repairs are made.
  3. If the owner does not comply with the repair requirements, within 180 days, the inspector shall notify the local building and safety and be fined a civil penalty of not less than 100.00 and not more than 500 per day for every day the repairs are not made.
  4. If you are a member of an HOA/ Condo and the Board of Directors refuses to make repairs noted by the inspector’s report, where there is a threat to the safety of the occupants, the inspection report is to be completed within 15 days and the report sent to the association and to the local code enforcement or Building and Safety and the association must immediately prevent any occupants or others, access to the areas until the repairs are made.
  5. If a non-emergency repair is cited by the inspector, the association shall be notified by the report and repairs made to ensure the continued ongoing maintenance of the load-bearing and associated waterproofing systems are in a safe functional, and sanitary condition, which the association shall be responsible as required by associations governing documents.
  6. Interestingly that HOA/ Condos do not have a penalty for failure to comply, however, the legislature crafted the law to provide protections through Davis Stirling. Also, should the HOA/ Board of Directors refuse to make repairs, resulting in injury, I would think legal scholars would agree, the HOA board members may be subject to personal liability for negligence. This is one that I am certain will be tried in court, sooner than later, and I would hate to be a Board member accused of being intentionally negligent.

There are no provisions in the law for either an Apartment owner or an HOA / Condo to argue the need for a reprieve because they cannot afford to make repairs. Making such an argument is tantamount to the many slum lords who refuse to make any repairs. It is our opinion, if you own the property, you should be responsible for ensuring its safety, especially when you rent the space to others.

Because these laws are new, many unscrupulous people and companies are popping up and trying to take advantage of consumers who are unknowledgeable of the laws. There are also a lot of diligent professional people and companies who can assist in this process and ensure the consumer meets the State deadline of 2025. The problem is determining who is a legitimate company and who is trying to take advantage of the consumer. At Deck Inspectors, our inspectors are properly licensed in all categories. We also engage the services of outside consultants who are also properly licensed and qualified to perform these inspections. Other companies we have recently seen operating on the internet have lost their State professional licenses or Contractors’ licenses and are now seeking to be an inspector. We would warn against hiring companies or individuals who have had their licenses suspended or revoked. We also recommend referrals and recommendations from others to help weed out unqualified inspectors.

This question is an interesting one. On the one hand, if the inspector performing the inspection is an architect, he would say his opinion is more credible, however, an engineer or a qualified contractor, would say their opinions are more credible. The inspection is not a credibility call because each inspector, despite their professional or state license, should be qualified to inspect the Elevated Elements pursuant to the law. If, however, the question becomes the actual integrity of a structure or the integrity of a beam, and its removal, we believe a structural engineer’s opinion would be most credible, but not the only opinion!   In our experience, we have found using architects and engineers along with qualified contractors to resolve the issue of supporting beam integrity to be best resolved by using the experience and knowledge of the Engineer, Architect, and Qualified Contractor, as each brings a significant source of experience and input to the removal and replacement of a deteriorated structure.

This is an exceedingly subjective question to answer as each property is completely unique. From our experience, a basic visual inspection for one property with 0-25 units would be $2,500-$3,000. This would not cover any invasive inspections or repairs. The inspection fee would also include a fee for the report, although every inspector is different. We would suggest you always start with the basic inspection from any inspection company and tailor the inspector to accommodate your needs. Also, you might be able to find less costly inspections, however as the Latin phrase goes, “Caveat Emptor” or “Buyer Beware”.

Some inspection companies charge by the “unit” or “door” This depends upon the inspection company or inspectors, their workload, and their process of inspecting. Deck Inspectors charges a flat fee for all unit’s properties under 25 units with a graduated increase in the cost based on the property and the inspection needs. Our inspection fees are the same for Apartments or HOA/Condos.

  1. Deck Inspector schedules projects daily and performs countless inspections annually. The current backlog for our inspections is about 4-6 weeks, and in spring and summer, the backlog of schedules can be significantly increased. Because of the 2025 deadline to have the inspection completed, many inspectors, including Deck Inspectors, are overwhelmed with inspection requests. These inspections take time and effort on the part of the inspectors, therefore anyone considering having these inspections performed to meet the deadline should start the process today because tomorrow and the closer the deadline, the more expensive the inspection will be (supply and demand) and the more difficult it will be to schedule the inspection. I always like to be at the front of the line and advise our clients the same.
  2. Visual Inspections performed by Deck Inspectors take 1-3 days based on the size of the property being inspected. Visual Reports are available within 24 hours of the inspection. Invasive Inspections can take as little as one day or many days, depending upon the conditions found during the inspection.

Deck Inspectors will provide a sample of our work to any prospective client, however, if you are asking for a sample copy to give to your inspector or contractor, we would decline because our process, like all inspectors, is proprietary and specific to our company.

Unfortunately, this is the pitfall of using an unqualified inspector. In the rear case, an inspection can cost tens of thousands of dollars, however, this would be where there are many hundreds of units and conditions that take countless days to inspect. For most HOA and Apartments, the inspections are a fraction of the cost.

An inspection, visual or invasive, does not ensure damage will be found, however as you indicated, the report found a code violation with the railings. The first question I would ask is when the building was constructed and what were the codes at the time. The second question, does the railing meet the codes when they were built and the third question is, is there damage or safety concern with the railings? If the railings were properly constructed at the time and met the code for when they were built, you would not need to remove them to meet today’s code standards, unless the railings are damaged and pose a risk or threat to the occupants. If this is the case, the railings may need to be replaced and likely you will need to rebuild the railings to comply with the current code. I would also contact your local building and safety department and let them know what the report shows and ask if the railings need to be removed and replaced.

  1. Visual
  2. Waterproofing
  3. Sheet metal integrations
  4. Railings (stability)
  5. Stair assemblies (not internal)
  6. Wood framed decks.
  7. Stucco integrations
  8. Doors and Door Assemblies
    1. Invasive
    2. Structural
    3. Wood Joist
    4. Framing
    5. Rot
    6. Stability of the assembly
    7. Attachments and hangars
    8. With or without concrete and tile surfaces
    9. With or without a waterproof deck system
  1. Apartments: The law states, “the inspector who performs the work for an apartment, cannot create the repair work scope and also perform the work”.In the example above, a professional person (architect or engineer), would not be the person to perform the work, however, they may be associated with the company that is performing the work. Is this a conflict? We have consulted with legal advisers who state the conflict only occurs where the written directions for repairs are created by the inspector and the repair work is not put out to bid by the owner. This is different than the inspector creating a repair scope of work in their reports and submitting the report to the client. The client is then in control of the report and scope of work and can engage others to bid on the work or obtain other opinions. That said, if an inspector is conflicted through employment and inspection and repairs are managed and controlled by the inspector and their employer, a conflict may occur.  At Deck Inspectors, we always encourage the client to secure multiple bids and second opinions for any repair project.
  2. HOA/ Condo. The law does not state a professional person (architect or engineer) cannot be employed by the repair company. In fact, one could argue this is the best approach and benefits the consumer because the consumer has a one-stop shop and the professional license is regulated to ensure compliance with building standards, vs. self-serving repairs. While there is no doubt a one-stop shop does help the consumer, the issues are more self-serving vs. consumer protection. It is always best to obtain multiple bids on any work.

The answer is YES, for Apartments. The law specifically includes civil and structural engineers, as well as architects, ICC Inspectors, and Qualified General Contractors with experience.

Not for HOA, however, we have found the best approach is to employ an Architect, Engineer who is experienced in the application of Waterproofing building envelopes, or a waterproofing contractor who employs the services of an architect or engineer.

  1. There are many different opinions on the requirement for a borescope or removal of surfaces to access the structure, however, the question really boils down to knowing if the structure below the finished decks and walls needs to be visually inspected for structural damage and if so, why?
  2. It is our opinion; a borescope should be used as the second course of action during an inspection and it’s also our opinion many contractors and inspectors prefer borescope inspections because the price of the inspection is usually 5-10 x over a visual inspection. That said, there are conditions where only a borescope can be used. Nevertheless, at Deck Inspectors we always take the conservative approach and that is to start with the Visual Inspection and assess if there are any signs of failure before assuming failure has occurred. If there are signs of failure and the structure must be inspected, then consideration of boreholes should be on the table.
  3. A borescope is limited in its ability to see beyond the scope; therefore, the first consideration of a borescope would be the building design. Can a borescope assist or inhibit the inspection because of the design? For example, a deck assembly is built with wood framing spaced every 12-24 inches apart (depending upon design). A bore scope is a small camera about ½ “in diameter which is placed into a small hole that is cored into the surface. This camera usually has a light at the end, creating enough lighting to see the structure. The problem is, the best cameras will only see about 18” directly in front of the camera (although there are longer scopes on the market, the issue is they are difficult to control over 2 feet long). This means if your deck is ten feet wide, you would need at least one hole every 12 inches apart, around the entire perimeter of the deck, including the center of the deck where wood blocking is placed. If you are lucky, you may see the structure, however, we also need to consider, bore scopes cannot look under door thresholds or on top of the plywood and beneath walls. All these hidden areas are also hidden from the view of the borescope.

NO, these soffit vents, like all others, only provide access within the clear areas and up to the limit of the borescope’s reach. Soffit vents are best at providing cross ventilation to the wood deck, helping to eliminate wet conditions under the deck, resulting in less dry rot. They do not help to resolve leaks or damage occurring on the TOP of the deck, under door thresholds, and waterproof traffic coatings and parapet walls and guard rails. It is our opinion that those who try to sell these vents as easy access to the structure for future inspections are misleading the consumer. It is also our opinion, not all decks need vents although we do agree, ventilation is the best way to combat trapped moisture in a soffit that is sealed.

  1. I would suggest you find another Engineering company because they clearly don’t understand the law, the intent of the law, and the cost burdens associated with their approach.
  2. The law: “Visual inspection” means inspection through the least intrusive method necessary to inspect load-bearing components, including visual observation only or visual observation in conjunction with, for example, the use of moisture meters, borescopes, or infrared technology.”
  3. We strongly believe an invasive inspection is the second or perhaps third approach to an inspection and only when conditions indicate. For example, if the building was constructed last year and there are no signs of leaks or damage, why would anyone remove the surface materials to peer into the structure? This is the same with all construction and there is no need to purposely damage a structure when investigating the possibility that water has caused damage.  An experienced inspector, one who performs these inspections daily or weekly, knows how to quickly assess the condition of a building without having to bore holes or cut the surfaces. That said, if there are indications of leaks and damage, then we would agree an invasive inspection must be performed.