sb 721

Why was SB 721 passed? The history of the law and the tragedies that led to its passage

California Senate Bill 721, or SB 721, represents a significant legislative response to tragic incidents related to building safety and maintenance in the state. This article explores the history of SB 721, shedding light on the reasons behind its passage and the unfortunate events that prompted the need for stricter regulations in Southern California.

Understanding SB 721

SB 721, officially titled “Building standards: decks and balconies,” was signed into law in 2018 and became effective on January 1, 2019. The primary purpose of this legislation is to enhance the safety of decks, balconies, and similar structures in California’s multifamily residential buildings. The law applies to buildings with three or more units and requires mandatory inspections of these elevated exterior elements.

The Scope of SB 721

SB 721 aims to prevent tragic accidents like the Berkeley balcony collapse in 2015. The law mandates inspections of elevated exterior elements in multifamily buildings with three or more units. These elements include balconies, decks, stairways, walkways, and entry structures that extend beyond the building’s exterior walls.

The Inspection Process

Under SB 721, building owners are responsible for arranging inspections by qualified inspectors. These inspectors must possess specific qualifications and certifications to evaluate the structural integrity of elevated exterior elements. The law outlines a rigorous inspection process designed to identify any deficiencies. Such deficiencies include water damage, dry rot, corrosion, and other structural issues.

The Tragedies That Prompted SB 721

SB 721’s passage can be traced back to several tragic incidents that shook California. These incidents raised concerns about the safety of elevated exterior elements in multifamily buildings. Consequently, these incidents highlighted the need for stricter regulations and mandatory inspections to prevent future disasters.

Berkeley Balcony Collapse (2015)

The Berkeley balcony collapse is perhaps the most well-known tragic event that played a significant role in the passage of SB 721. In June 2015, a fifth-floor balcony in an apartment building gave way during a birthday party. This resulted in the deaths of six young people and injuries to seven others. The balcony’s failure was attributed to severe dry rot, which had weakened its structural integrity over time.

Additional Incidents and Concerns

While the Berkeley balcony collapse was a significant catalyst, other incidents and concerns also contributed to the law. Reports of deteriorating and unsafe balconies in multifamily buildings across the state raised alarms within the community and among lawmakers.


SB 721, “Building standards: decks and balconies,” was passed in response to tragic incidents and concerns about the safety of elevated exterior elements. Likewise, the law aims to prevent such disasters by mandating regular inspections to identify and address any deficiencies in a timely manner.

While the history of SB 721 is marked by tragedy, its passage signifies a commitment to the safety and well-being of residents in multifamily buildings. Building owners and associations must comply with the law’s requirements to ensure the ongoing safety of elevated exterior elements. Through diligent inspections and necessary repairs, we can prevent further tragedies and protect those who call these buildings home.


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