Robert Lamoureux | New laws on decks and catwalks: What you need to know

Robert Lamoureux
Robert Lamoureux

Due to an overwhelming number of emails I’ve received with inquiries about new statutes for decking and catwalks, I am sharing the facts that I have gathered. The new statutes are Senate Bill 326 and SB721.  

SB326 is for homeowners associations and SB721 is for apartments. 

These regulations are for exterior decks and catwalk inspections, and repairs to decks on HOAs and apartments with three or more units. I did a lot of homework on this, plus I had the good fortune of speaking with Mr. John Caprarelli, who is a Building and Safety official here in Santa Clarita. John took quite a bit of his valuable time for me, clarifying some of the ambiguous information in the state statute. John also attended a seminar regarding these new rulings and therefore is quite up to speed on these issues. 

Many of you, mostly HOA board members, have written in thinking that because your decks have a roof/covering over them and it’s not cantilever, that you are not required to follow these statutes. According to John and the state statutes, if a walking surface is exposed to the elements (outside, even covered), the owners are required to follow these rules, regulations and inspections. The inspections can only be performed by a licensed architect and/or a structural engineer. 

A B-1 licensed general contractor cannot do these inspections, contrary to popular belief. There are many ads out there telling you that a general contractor will do these for you. This is false advertising and will not be recognized by B&S. The statutes were put in place for inspections because of a catastrophic failure in northern California where six people died when the balcony/ deck they were standing on failed and collapsed to the ground.  

The failures of such decks are typically due to rotted timbers and/or bad connections. Over the years, the weather gets under the decking protection systems and the rot begins. At times, the openings in the waterproofing are slight but still allow water to enter and cause these failures. Termites are also a source of structural damage to the large timbers that can cause failure. Some decks’ timbers are exposed with no waterproofing on them. The water gets under the deck planks and the joists they rest on, and the rot begins in between the timbers, which cannot be seen. 

Inspectors will come in and do a cursory inspection of the surface to see the overall condition of the decks/catwalks. If they determine that an additional, more in-depth inspection is needed, then a borescope (camera) can be used by drilling a 1-inch hole on the underside and looking at the interior space. At times, the underside of either stucco and/or siding may need to be opened up in order to get a full inspection of the joists and large timbers.  

If the engineer finds any problems with the decks and/or catwalks, they will report these conditions to the building and safety department in writing. Once this happens, then It’s up to the HOA and/or apartment owners to follow up with all repairs, with a state-licensed general contractor of their choice. The building department will require plans and permits for the repairs that the engineer’s report states are needed. The engineer cannot be the inspector and the repair person to the decks he is inspecting — this must be two separate, licensed professionals.  

Those of you who have the good fortune to have property here in Santa Carita are lucky to have the building department we have here in town. The city of Santa Clarita is one of the most streamlined departments that I have ever worked with. I’ve worked with many different building and safety departments over the years, and many are a nightmare to deal with.  

Please understand, they are there to keep you safe, even though the work required sometimes can be frustrating. If they give you a correction, it’s in the interest of safety. Some of you over the years have written in to me explaining that you felt they were picking on you for minor issues. Inspectors are doing their jobs and we are fortunate to have them working for us. Permit fees are the smallest part of repairs or construction, and help keep the department up and running, for our benefit. 

Feel free to reach out to me via email with any further questions. 

Robert Lamoureux has more than 40 years of experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contracting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Email questions to Robert at [email protected].  

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