The Berkeley apartment balcony that collapsed two weeks ago killing six and injuring seven other Irish students passed inspections less than one year ago, according to documents released by the city.
The documents, released on Monday, showed that the private structural inspector, hired by the Library Gardens Complex owners in August 2014. They marked the balcony supports as being in “good condition” and examined the balcony decks, rails and soffits, the LA Times reports. The records do not show how closely the structures were examined.
Last week Berkeley city engineers said that dry rot had weakened the beams. They did not determine how the fungus had developed.
On Tuesday, June 16, the balcony in question collapsed killing five Irish J-1 visa students and one Irish American woman. It left another seven Irish students in hospital with serious injuries. Those who died were Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Lorcan Miller, Niccolai Schuster, Eimear Walsh (all aged 21), and Ashley Donohue (22).
The inspection, carried out in August 2014, found broken seals in nearly two dozen windows and cracked floors. This was attributed to settleing in the the eight-year-old stucco-over-wood building. The report noted that the cracks needed to be sealed to prevent water intrusion.
The report also called for the stairwells to be power-washed and repainted.
The inspection company was not named. They gave the report to Riverstone Residential Group, the national company that managed Library Gardens at the time, in October 2014.
Riverstone was bought last year by Greystar, another national apartment management firm.
Greystar hired engineering experts to evaluate the building following the balcony collapse. They did not comment on the 2014 inspection.
In an email on Monday a spokesperson from Greystar said, “The safety of our residents and their guests is our highest priority. ... The experts have confirmed that the building is safe.”
Another inspection, carried out in September 2014, cited the Library Gardens managers for failing to routinely inspect each of the apartments.
Library Gardens’ managers were not able to prove that they complied with the city’s requirements that all apartments undergo a safety check every year.
Last week Greystar provided Berkeley with copies of “walk-through” checks conducted on approximately one-third of its apartments. These forms do not include safety checks required by Berkeley, such as fire extinguishers and access to fire exits.
On June 24 Berkeley’s City Housing Inspector Brent Nelson wrote to Greystar’s management informing them that Library Gardens “do not meet requirements.” Nelson gave the company another week to provide a full safety inspection of all 176 apartments “or potentially be subject to penalties and fines.”
Berkeley city officials have announced, that in light of the tragedy, they will consider a proposed ordinance to require rental property owners to pay for private inspections of all balconies in the college town.
It is thought that Berkeley code enforcement inspectors may not have been aware of the building’s failure to perform safety inspections. Those records are not required to be filed with the city unless a code inspector asks for them.
The Herald reports that the Berkeley city authorities also did not know that the construction firm, Segue Construction, responsible for the apartment building, had paid out $26 million in lawsuit settlements over the past six years.
Alameda County district attorney Nancy O'Malley is now conducting twin civil and criminal investigations into how eight timber balcony beams on a complex built in 2007 could severely rot and fail. A third investigation is being carried out by Contractors State License Board (CSLB), the body charged with regulating all builders operating in California.
One of the surviving Irish students Hannah Waters (21) posted on Facebook that she had only heard that six of her friends had been killed in the collapse on Thursday last.
She wrote, “My ventilator was removed last Tuesday and I only learned of the tragic accident on Thursday," the DCU student said.
"I can't even begin to comprehend what has happened.
"I am deeply saddened to hear of the tragic passing of Lorcan, Eimear, Nick, Eoghan, Olivia and Ashley; may they forever rest in peace."
In her post she revealed that she has suffered back injuries, collapsed lung, and fractured ribs, legs, pelvis and elbow, but expects to make a full recovery.
The student from Castleknock in Dublin, said that tragedy has taught her not to “take life for granted.”
She wrote, “This tragedy has taught me one thing and that is that we can't take life for granted. It is important that we enjoy every day as it comes; something which I intend to live by in the days of recovery ahead.”
"Luckily, I am very optimistic for a full recovery. I will be in intensive rehab in San Francisco for some time.
"I know it will not be easy and that it will be very tough, but I am determined to make the best of my situation and work hard at getting back to full strength as soon as possible."
She went on to pay tribute to her friends Clodagh Cogley, Sean Fahey, Niall Murray, Conor Flynn, Jack Halpin and Aoife Beary, who were injured. One remains in critical condition.
"I also send my best wishes to the other injured and pray for their speedy recovery too."
You can donate to the Irish J-1 Berkeley Tragedy Fund here.