Berkeley balcony passed inspection last year, records show

Inspection showed the balcony that killed six to be in ‘good’ condition in August 2014

The fourth-floor balcony that collapsed in California last month killing six Irish students passed a 2014 inspection and was deemed in “good” condition, according to records released by the City of Berkeley.

A property inspection form for the Library Gardens student accommodation block at 2020 Kittredge Street in downtown Berkeley signed off the balcony as being in good condition in August 2014.

The inspection was carried out by Denee Davenport, a property manager with a company called Riverstone Residential, which managed the Library Gardens apartment block at the time, and Oscar Roman, a maintenance supervisor with the company.

The supports, deck surface, rails and soffit on the balconies and breezeways received a clean check from the company as part of the semi-annual “structural frame and building envelope survey,” the inspection form for the site visit on August 15th, 2014 shows.


Elsewhere in the building, the inspectors found paint chipping and water streaking in corners of the building as well as some settling issues “causing some of the window seals to break down” on the apartments facing out on Kittredge Street. A total of 22 apartments needed new seals for their window frames, the inspectors found.

Five Dublin students – Eoghan Culligan, Lorcán Miller, Niccolai Schuster, Eimear Walsh and Olivia Burke, as well as Ms Burke’s Irish-American cousin Ashley Donohoe, from Rohnert Park, California – were killed when the balcony they were standing on collapsed during an early-morning 21st birthday party on Tuesday, June 16th.

Seven other students who fell from the balcony were injured in the collapse, including two critically and several others seriously.

A September 2014 walk-by inspection of Apartment 405 – where the balcony was located – found that the condition of the apartment’s exterior and the balcony were in “good” condition.

That inspection of the two-bedroom apartment was also carried out by “Denee & Oscar,” according to the one-page inspection report where almost all of the items are circled as being in “good” condition.

The only comments provided by the pair following the inspection was that one of the smoke detectors was “beeping” and there were no carbon monoxide detectors in the property, the records show.

It is not clear from the paperwork released by the city whether the 2014 surveys by Riverstone went beyond a visual inspections.

Riverstone was last year purchased by Greystar, the Texas-based company that manages the 176-apartment building on behalf of its owner, Blackrock, the US investment company.

Brent Nelson, the housing inspector supervisor for the City of Berkeley, wrote to Brian Gagan, managing director of Greystar, on June 24th, 2015 to inform the company that it had failed to meet the requirements of the mandated inspections of each apartment.

Mr Nelson said the inspection reports for each apartment also did not contain a signature, nor were they dated.

He gave the company until Thursday, July 2nd to submit proper inspection reports for each of the 176 apartments in the Library Gardens property to the city’s housing code enforcement office.

The Alameda County District Attorney, which prosecutes crime in Berkeley, is carrying out a criminal and civil investigation into the balcony collapse to examine whether there are grounds for a prosecution over the tragedy.

City of Berkeley building inspectors concluded in a report published on June 23rd that the broken cantilevered balcony joists that once supported the structure appeared to be “severely dry rotted.”

San Francisco lawyers Rains Lucia Stern, representing the parents of Ms Donohoe, raised grave concerns with city officials, including Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, and the district attorney that the city’s inspection did not constitute a proper or independent investigation.

Meanwhile, the company that built the Berkeley building where the balcony collapsed said that it was taking a legal action against the investigation launched by the Alameda County district attorney.

Segue Construction, which built the student accommodation block in 2007, said that it had filed a temporary restraining order against district attorney Nancy O’Malley over her investigation.

“Our immediate concern is that the criminal investigation announced by Alameda County district attorney respects the customary legal rights of all parties to the investigation,” said a statement from the company, reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

The company said that on Monday it asked the district attorney, who is charge of prosecuting crime in Berkeley, “for the opportunity to be present for any inspection or testing of the balconies,” which are under the control of the attorney, but that it did not receive a response.

“Therefore this morning we are applying for a temporary restraining order to ensure no evidence related to this tragic accident is altered, inspected, tested or destroyed without allowing Segue to observe and participate in that process,” the company said in the statement.

A spokeswoman for Ms O’Malley’s office, assistant district attorney Teresa Drenick, said that the prosecutors had received no record of Segue making any demand to have an expert present while the balcony inspections or testing was being done.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent