Signs of dry rot seen on second balcony at Berkeley apartment building

Damaged wood found at 2nd balcony at Berkeley apartment building where people fell in balcony collapse

Signs of apparent dry rot have been found on a second balcony of the same building where one collapsed here earlier this week, killing six people.

City officials Wednesday ordered the second balcony, just underneath the collapsed balcony, to be removed immediately because it was in danger of collapsing.

Workers removed it Wednesday evening, revealing darkened wood that had the appearance of dry rot.

The condition of the wood in the lower balcony looked similar to the wood in the collapsed balcony above. When a rope touched one of the exposed beams of the collapsed balcony, flakes of wood flew off, indicating the fragile condition of the deteriorated wood.

Gene St. Onge, an Oakland civil and structural engineer, visited the scene in Berkeley on Wednesday and said the water damage was clear both on the collapsed balcony and the one below it that was ordered dismantled Wednesday.

“You can see evidence of water at the front, some staining at the front face of the lower balcony,” St. Onge said. “There's some brown staining in the front.”

The removal comes as outside experts like St. Onge have raised questions over the role of water intrusion at the five-story Library Gardens apartment complex in downtown Berkeley, which was completed in 2007.

A resident of Library Gardens, Rahila Jarrett, said the roof of her building routinely leaks water into one of her apartment bedrooms during rainy seasons. "It shorts out the light in the ceiling," she said.

Along some of the exterior walls, there were cracks in the stucco and streaks of white coming out of them below gutters.

Another large apartment complex in Berkeley managed by the same company that manages Library Gardens was cited during a 2013 round of code enforcement inspections.

Clogged gutters and downspouts were found at the five-story apartment building, known as Hillside Village, on Shattuck Avenue and constructed in 2005. An inspector also found peeling paint around the downspout area. 

City officials asked the manager to clean all downspouts and to remove peeling paint and replace it with a fresh coat of primer and paint.

A healthy coat of paint is important to keep moisture from getting into the building, and protects against decay, according to the inspection report. 

At the time of that inspection, both that building and Library Gardens was managed by Riverstone Residential Group, a Dallas-based company owned by London-based CAS Capital Limited that was purchased last year by Greystar, which describes itself as one of the world’s leading multifamily real estate services companies.

Attempts to reach a Los Angeles-based public relations firm handling media inquiries for Greystar regarding the Hillside Village code inspection were not immediately returned.

A group of Library Gardens residents who gave a tour to Los Angeles Times reporters said they were afraid to speak out publicly because they feared being evicted; they said they have often smelled dampness and complained of standing water in passageways.

"There has been damp smells for years," said one resident, who asked not to be named for fear she would be evicted for speaking publicly.

St. John and Panzar reported from Berkeley. Times staff writer Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report from Los Angeles. 

Follow us on Twitter for more news on the Berkeley apartment crash: @paigestjohn @jpanzar

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