Sunday, April 16, 2023

 AB 1101 Puts Condos at Risk

  The California legislature is considering AB 1101 that would amend Civil Code §5551 and Health and Safety Code §17973 which require inspections of "exterior elevated elements" on condominiums and apartments for safety. These include balconies, elevated walkways, and staircases made of wood or wood-based products. The point is to detect or intercept rot that would compromise the safety of these structures. Currently the statutes provide that these safety inspections be done by qualified experts--architects, structural engineers, and in the case of apartment buildings, certain licensed contractors. AB 1101 would add another category--termite inspectors. 

The original statute did not allow inspectors to also perform the repairs. The idea was to prevent the inspectors from capitalizing on their relationship with building owners or homeowner associations to secure jobs repairing what they had just recommended. Seemed logical at the time. Along the way, that prohibition was dropped. That wasn't a good idea then and it isn't now. Homeowner association boards of directors especially are often not sophisticated in construction issues and do not have the background to review or challenge an expert's recommendations. In the past, however, at least with Civil Code 5551, the version that requires balcony safety inspections of condominiums, the inspectors were design professionals--architects and engineers--who do not normally contract to repair what they inspect.

AB 1101 would allow "Branch 3" termite inspectors to not only perform condo inspections, but recommend repairs, and then contract to perform the repairs they recommend. The checks and balances of the original statute would be wiped out. This may not be important for investors and owners of apartment buildings who have the skill and background to oversee these inspectors and, where necessary, question their recommendations. They also know to seek alternate opinions and bids if they question the original reports. While boards of directors of condominium associations can seek the help of professionals to review inspector's recommendations, they are more likely to follow the guidance of the expert already retained.

We also question if termite inspectors have the necessary skill set to calculate whether rot-compromised structural framing on a multi-family building can support the intended loads. A review of the required "Branch 3" exam prep courses doesn't show  much required knowledge of structural engineering or design sufficient to evaluate the ability of a compromised structural support for a balcony or a staircase to hold up when occupied. 

However, even if their training includes how to re-construct a failed balcony or stairway, no inspector who inspects and recommends repairs under these statutes should be allowed to also contract for their repairs. To protect consumers, that just makes sense.

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