All Hands on Deck


The legislative attention to housing issues over the past year has given rise to an incredible surge in political advocacy of all stripes. If “the meek will inherit the earth,” as some say, one might speculate as to the planet’s condition in the aftermath of scorched-earth-style extremism in this Battle Royale. If there is one constant theme that emerges from all the rhetoric surrounding California’s newly recognized “housing crisis,” there is plenty of blame to be spread around lots of different players.

Tenant advocacy groups have mobilized an imposing force with a single message of hope for relief from spiraling costs of rent, and many point to the rental property owner as being the culprit who caused the condition. Their immediate solution: rent control, repeal the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Act that placed restrictions upon local government’s ability to enact the strictest forms of price controls on rental properties. That proposed solution was embodied in Assembly Bill 1506 (Bloom), which failed passage this past January in the Assembly Committee on Housing and Community Development. And the same effort is embodied in an initiative proposal cleared for circulation by the

Attorney General with the following description:


Repeals state law that currently restricts the scope of rent-control policies that cities and other local jurisdictions may impose. Allows policies that would limit the rental rates that residential-property owners may charge for new tenants, new construction, and single family homes. In accordance with California law, provides that rent-control policies may not violate landlords’ right to a fair financial return on their rental property. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Unknown, but potentially significant, changes in state and local government tax revenues. Net decrease more likely than net increase. Potential increase in local government costs of up to tens of millions of dollars per year in the long term, likely paid by fees on owners of rental housing. [Bold in original.]

The prospect of continuing legislative battles in the shadow of a looming ballot fight gives rise to determined groups of rental property owners to mobilize a resistance to the challenges ahead. This is an All Hands on Deck moment for owners everywhere to understand exactly what is at stake in the coming months as the dialogue heats up.

Years and years of inadequate housing supply has matched deficiencies in roads and highway maintenance, water and sewer needs, and a host of other infrastructure needs that have simply failed to match a burgeoning 21st Century society.

Moving away from the Number One priority on every rental owner’s list of issues that merit attention, we turn to tackle another leftover challenge that has gained traction this year. Senate Bill 721 (Hill) passed the Senate in late January, meeting the constitutional deadline for passage of bills in its house of origin. The bill would require property owners of three (3) units or more to hire a qualified inspector every six years to inspect 15 percent of all exterior wood supported or stabilized walking surfaces above six feet from the ground, including decks, balconies, porches, stairways, walkways, entry structures, and their supports and railings. There are a number of shortcomings in this proposal and they are cause for real concern. We outline here only a few of the many reasons why the measure requires additional attention to its detail.

Owners are already subject to rigorous inspection and maintenance standards. Existing statute, regulation, and case law provide a whole spectrum of inspection and maintenance requirements that developers and owners must abide by to properly construct and operate ownership and rental property. Additional inspections are redundant and unnecessarily costly. Instead of requiring regular state-mandated inspections, the Legislature should focus on strengthening inspections that are already in existence, and amending the building code to ensure better materials are used.

Balcony and deck tragedies are preventable without regular state-mandated inspections. One of the central culprits in the recent Berkeley and Folsom balcony and stairway collapses was dry rot. Experts agree that certain changes to the building code and to inspection standards during the construction and permitting process are necessary. Proposals include using better, stronger and more durable material, and better weatherproofing technologies and techniques. The State has since implemented new emergency building code regulations to address some of these issues. We support these approaches, because they provide concrete prevention tactics that can easily be incorporated into the building design and permitting process. SB 721, on the other hand, requiring regular and costly inspections is extreme, redundant and unwarranted.

Many local inspection programs already exist. Many cities and counties have already adopted residential rental inspection programs requiring regular inspections of rental property. To the extent these inspections include or are amended to include inspecting decks and balconies, they should be exempt.

Inconclusive inspection reports will be problematic and are not addressed in the bill. SB 721 requires owners to fix any decks or balconies that are in need of repair or replacement, hazardous, structurally deficient or noncompliant as determined by the inspector. In many cases, however, the need for repair will be inconclusive because the structure is hidden behind a wall. Inspectors will likely report their determinations as inconclusive followed by a statement indicating that further testing, including destructive testing, is required to make a determination. Destructive testing is incredibly expensive and intrusive because it literally requires destroying and tearing down walls. The bill does not address inconclusive inspections and reports. If owners will be required to conduct destructive testing every time a report is inconclusive, the time and expense will be extraordinary. We oppose such intrusive testing based on inconclusiveness.

Mandatory retention of records is unnecessary. SB 721 requires owners to keep records of all inspection reports indefinitely. Indefinite retention of records appears by all counts to be unprecedented. Property owners are required to make disclosures of material defects and repairs made within a reasonable amount of time, but records of such repairs do not need to be kept by the owner. Any significant repair that requires pulling a permit will be documented at the local recorder’s office. Similarly here, any major repair to a deck or balcony will likely require pulling a permit, and as such will be recorded. A mandate to keep all inspection reports for all eternity creates unnecessary liability, and is itself unnecessary to achieve the goal of the bill.

No appeal process. The bill is silent on how owners can object to, oppose, or appeal a decision of an inspector or local government about the need for a repair, and with regard to fines, penalties, and liens. Due process commands that owners have a fair process to contest determinations made by state and local governments.

Incentives. The bill creates new inspection mandates without providing any incentives or cost offsets to help owners manage the high cost of inspections and repairs. We urge the author to consider ways the state and local governments can help owners achieve structurally safe decks and balconies by offering incentives, rebates, tax writeoffs, and other cost offsets. One approach would be to ensure owners are protected from liability after going through the inspection process and making repairs to comply with the law. A process for indemnification, immunity or a liability shield would help incentivize owners to be proactive to make sure their decks and balconies are up to date and well maintained.

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