Fatal Balcony Collapse Prompts Building Code Update

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A month after a balcony collapse in Berkeley, CA, killed six college students and injured seven more people, the city council has overridden industry concerns and mandated strict new rules for building standards and inspections.

All existing balconies, decks and stairways in the city must be inspected over the next six months, with subsequent inspections taking place at least once every three years. Designs and materials will be restricted, as well. Investigators have said dry rot in the side of the building was a key factor in the June collapse, so balconies will now be required to have ventilation openings and be sealed underneath.

Lobbying by the families of the students who were killed has directly influenced the new legislation.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates told the Guardian that “although nothing we do can erase the horrible tragedy that occurred … I believe that the strict new regulations for balcony construction and inspections adopted by the city council last week are an important step toward our goal of doing everything we can to make sure this never happens again.”

Both criminal and civil investigations have been launched into the incident. Segue Constructions, which built the apartment building in question, has previously been accused of constructing unsafe balconies. It once paid $3.5 million in a settlement over alleged building defects in a condo development.

After the news of the students’ deaths broke, Segue Construction defended its past safety record and issued a statement, saying that “[our] hearts go out to the families and loved ones who died.”

The California Contractors State License Board and Nancy O’Malley, the Alameda County district attorney, have both announced investigations, although few specifics have been given by either.

There are also questions over the maintenance and management of the building. Of course, not all landowners may be fully aware of potential safety hazards (one of the reasons 97% of Realtors recommend inspections to buyers), but evidence of negligence could lead to a manslaughter charge.

O’Malley said that her office’s probe will examine whether greater than ordinary carelessness or lack of judgment led to a high risk of death or bodily injury.

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