Real Estate and Property Law

Will probe of balcony collapse that killed 6 lead to new apartment building standards?

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Following a fatal porch collapse in Chicago over a decade ago that killed 13 people and injured dozens more, the city strengthened both its building code and its enforcement procedures.

It appears that a similar process may now be underway in Berkeley, California, where a fourth-floor apartment balcony collapse Tuesday killed six and injured seven more.

Although the Liberty Gardens apartment complex had been constructed only eight years ago, wood rot seemingly may have contributed to the accident, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. An investigation to determine exactly what happened is still ongoing.

However, an earlier San Francisco Chronicle article also suggested that more people may have been standing on the porch than those who designed and approved it intended.

“It was definitely not large enough to be what the city would call an ‘open space balcony,’ where groups of people could stand outside,” said Carrie Olson, a former member of the Berkeley Design Review Committee. “This was meant just to be a place where someone could stand out for bit, get a breath of fresh air. Not for something like 13 people.”

A spokesman for the city said Berkeley and state standards called for the 30-foot-square balcony to be able to hold 60 pounds of weight per square foot. The balcony was designed to meet those standards, the newspaper reports.

Attorney Tom Miller represents individuals in litigation against condominium associations. Speaking generally, he said lawsuits over water damage allegedly compromising the structural integrity of wood-frame apartment buildings are not unusual.

Photos of the remains of the collapsed Liberty Gardens balcony show jagged stumps a few inches from the apartment building wall where the floor joists that had supported the structure sheared off.

The L.A. Now page of the Los Angeles Times (sub. req.) also has a story.

See also: “10 years after fatal Chicago porch collapse, $16.6M case concludes”

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