BREAKING NEWS
L.A. Now

Collapsed balcony that killed 6 passed 2014 inspection, records show

Inspector hired by Library Gardens in 2014 found no problems with balcony that collapsed, killing students

The fifth-floor Berkeley apartment balcony that collapsed two weeks ago, killing six and injuring seven, passed muster with inspectors hired by the complex’s owners less than a year ago, according to documents released by the city Monday.

A private structural inspector checking the Library Gardens apartment complex in August 2014 marked the balcony supports as being in “good” condition, along with balcony decks, rails and soffits, inspection records show.

The records do not indicate how deeply those structures were analyzed, or whether the check went beyond visual inspection.

The inspection found broken seals in nearly two dozen windows and cracked floors as the eight-year-old stucco-over-wood building settled, the records show. The report noted those cracks needed to be sealed, a common step to prevent internal damage from water intrusion.

It also called for stairwells to be power-washed and repainted.

The inspection company that produced the report was not named. The report was provided in October 2014 to a property manager at Riverstone Residential Group, the national company that managed Library Gardens at the time, the records released by the city Monday show.

Riverstone was bought last year by Greystar, another national apartment management firm.

A Greystar spokeswoman did not comment on the 2014 structural inspection, but said Greystar hired engineering experts to evaluate the building after the balcony collapse.

"The safety of our residents and their guests is our highest priority. ... The experts have confirmed that the building is safe," the company representative said in an email late Monday.

A second inspection, conducted last September, cited Library Gardens managers for failing to routinely inspect each of the complex’s 176 apartments.

Berkeley city engineers said last week that dry rot had weakened the beams of a cantilevered balcony over the front entrance of Library Gardens, but they did not determine how the fungus developed.

Thirteen people, most of them students from Ireland attending a late-night 21st birthday party, were on the balcony when it collapsed, plunging more than 40 feet to the pavement.

The latest records show Library Gardens’ managers were unable to provide proof to Berkeley that they complied with the city’s requirements that all apartments undergo a safety check every year -- a criticism also made in the September 2014 Riverstone inspection.

Instead of the required annual safety checklists, Greystar last week provided Berkeley with copies of “walk-through” checks conducted on a little more than one-third of its apartments. Those forms often noted the need to repaint walls or replace missing carbon monoxide detectors.

The forms do not include safety checks required by Berkeley, such as extinguishers, access to fire exits, venting of appliances and shut-off valves and secure fastening of handrails and guardrails.

The September 2014 walk-through for Apartment 405, the location of the failed balcony, found the apartment was in “good” condition -- missing a carbon monoxide detector and having a beeping smoke detector.

The Library Gardens records “do not meet the requirements” of Berkeley’s rental safety program, city housing inspector Brent Nelson wrote in a June 24 letter to Greystar’s managing director in San Francisco.

Nelson then gave Greystar another week -- until July 2 -- to provide full safety inspections for all 176 apartments at Library Gardens, “or potentially be subject to penalties and fines.”

A Greystar spokeswoman said the company is completing apartment inspections in accordance with city requirements.

As a result of the collapse, Berkeley city officials later this month will consider a proposed ordinance to require rental property owners to pay for private inspections of all balconies in the college town. Mayor Tom Bates said Monday there “are not that many” balconies. “The builders don’t like them,” he said.

Berkeley code enforcement inspectors might not have been previously aware of Library Gardens’ failure to perform safety inspections. Those records are not required to be filed with the city unless a code inspector asks for them.

Bates said it was unreasonable to mandate increased city inspection of rentals, given the city’s budget, but believed newer apartment buildings are not apt to present many hazards.

“The units you want to inspect are the older units, the older buildings,” he said. Those dwellings are covered by Berkeley’s rent control agency, he added.

Times staff writer Javier Panzar contributed to this report.

Twitter: @paigestjohn

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
45°