No rot­ten wood vi­o­la­tions

A hand­ful of code in­frac­tions were found at Berke­ley apart­ment com­plex in re­cent years; all were fixed.

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Javier Pan­zar and Paige St. John javier.pan­zar@latimes.com paige.stjohn@latimes.com

BERKE­LEY — Newly re­leased city in­spec­tion files show a hand­ful of hous­ing code vi­o­la­tions at the Li­brary Gar­dens apart­ment com­plex in re­cent years, but no in­di­ca­tion of rot­ting wood that ap­par­ently caused Tues­day’s bal­cony col­lapse that killed six and in­jured seven.

Build­ing per­mits also re­leased by the city Fri­day did not men­tion any of the build­ing’s four bal­conies or wa­ter­proof­ing in­spec­tions dur­ing con­struc­tion.

Many ex­perts be­lieve the bal­cony failed be­cause the wood beams sup­port­ing the deck had rot­ted from ex­po­sure to wa­ter.

“Once again, I fail to find any men­tion of wa­ter­proof­ing,” said Gene St. Onge, a civil and struc­tural engi­neer in Oak­land who is not con­nected to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. “There sim­ply is no reg­u­la­tory mech­a­nism for as­sur­ing that a new build­ing is wa­ter­proofed cor­rectly, but there cer­tainly should be.”

The apart­ment com­plex’s hous­ing code vi­o­la­tions in­cluded holes in walls, trip haz­ards from dam­aged f loors, loose me­tal strips in door­ways, in­op­er­a­ble ceil­ing fans in laun­dry rooms and miss­ing or in­op­er­a­ble exit signs through­out the build­ing.

The ma­jor­ity of vi­o­la­tions were found dur­ing a ran­dom Septem­ber 2013 city in­spec­tion of sev­eral low-in­come and af­ford­able hous­ing units in the com­plex. The five vi­o­la­tions were fixed by Jan­uary 2014, ac­cord­ing to city records.

Berke­ley re­quires own­ers to “self-cer­tify” the safety of their rental prop­erty each year, but the ac­tual check­lists are not turned in to the city. Ten­ants can ask the city to con­duct its own in­spec­tion, which could re­sult in of­fi­cial hous­ing code vi­o­la­tion ci­ta­tions.

Oth­er­wise, city work­ers said, units are not in­spected an­nu­ally un­less they are among prop­er­ties the city Hous­ing Code En­force­ment of­fice picks at ran­dom.

In­spec­tion files at Li­brary Gar­dens show that even when city in­spec­tors ar­rive, their re­views are some­times cur­sory or af­ter the fact.

In March, one ten­ant re- ported a leak and re­peated flood­ing in her unit. When an in­ves­ti­ga­tor ar­rived two weeks later, the leak had been re­paired and no vi­o­la­tion was recorded.

In May 2014 a ten­ant com­plained that an el­e­va­tor had been out of ser­vice for three days, and res­i­dents us­ing wheel­chairs had been un­able to leave the build­ing.

When an in­spec­tor ar­rived a week later, a build­ing as­sis­tant man­ager said the el­e­va­tor had been op­er­at­ing “as of sev­eral min­utes be­fore.”

No vi­o­la­tion was recorded, but the com­plain­ing ten­ant told an in­spec­tor that she was still “con­cerned about the safety” of res­i­dents us­ing wheel­chairs.

In one case, a com­plaint did lead city in­spec­tors to find vi­o­la­tions: they spot­ted a “large” rec­tan­gu­lar hole in the wall at the base of a stair­case near an exit door and a bro­ken elec­tric light at a wheel­chair ramp in 2011. Both vi­o­la­tions were fixed within two months.

Wed­nes­day, the day af­ter the bal­cony col­lapse, the di­rec­tor of the city hous­ing code en­force­ment asked Li­brary Gar­dens man­age­ment to sub­mit copies of safety in­spec­tions for all 174 apart­ments in the com­plex by the next day, ac­cord­ing to records re­leased Fri­day.

Man­agers of the apart­ment com­plex placed no­tices on the doors of mul­ti­ple ten­ants in Li­brary Gar­dens on Thurs­day an­nounc­ing their units would un­dergo a “re­quired an­nual in­spec­tion” on Fri­day.

“In the five-plus years I’ve lived at Li­brary Gar­dens, only one ‘an­nual in­spec­tion’ of my apart­ment has been an­nounced and car­ried out,” said a res­i­dent who spoke anony­mously, cit­ing con­cern about ret­ri­bu­tion.

Sev­eral res­i­dents said such in­spec­tions are in­fre­quent.

There was no im­me­di­ate re­sponse from Li­brary Gar­dens’ na­tional man­age­ment com­pany, Greystar, based in South Carolina.

Other Greystar-man­aged build­ings in Berke­ley also had ten­ant com­plaints but no ma­jor code vi­o­la­tions.

A res­i­dent of one apart­ment build­ing com­plained last Oc­to­ber that she was with­out heat, but she had moved by the time a city in­spec­tor ar­rived in mid-Novem­ber.

Another ten­ant had been trapped in an el­e­va­tor and the in­spec­tor re­ferred the mat­ter to the state, city files show.

Berke­ley hous­ing code en­force­ment of­fi­cials told The Times that since April, the of­fice has cited four prop­erty own­ers for fail­ing to in­spect rental units. The fine for each was $200.

The city, mean­while, has opened a cen­ter for fam­i­lies of the vic­tims to gather and is as­sist­ing them in mak­ing ar­range­ments to re­turn the bod­ies of those killed back to Ire­land, “in­clud­ing nav­i­gat­ing through any bu­reau­cracy,” said city spokesman Matthai Chakko.

Jeff Chiu As­so­ci­ated Press

A CREW WORKS on a bal­cony that col­lapsed in Berke­ley, killing six. Ex­perts be­lieve the bal­cony failed be­cause wa­ter had rot­ted wooden sup­port beams.

Noah Berger As­so­ci­ated Press

FU­NERAL DI­REC­TORS trans­port the body of one of the Ir­ish col­lege stu­dents who died Tues­day at the Li­brary Gar­dens apart­ment com­plex.

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