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Berkeley tragedy raises concerns about balcony safety

New York City residents, along with the residents across the country and world, were recently troubled and saddened to learn about the deaths of six Irish students who were killed when the apartment balcony on which they were standing collapsed. The magnitude of this tragedy has raised questions and renewed public concerns about the many structural and maintenance problems that are often at the root of balcony collapses which, according to the Associated Press, have resulted in the injuries and deaths of more than 6,500 people in the U.S. since 2003.

The most-recent tragic balcony collapse occurred at an apartment complex in Berkeley California when a wooden balcony snapped from the exterior apartment wall to which it was affixed, causing the 13 people who were on the balcony to fall some 50 feet to the street below. Six of the 13 individuals died of blunt force injuries they suffered in the collapse and fall while seven others remain hospitalized.

According to an AP report, the 40-square-foot balcony appears to have snapped from its supports due to dry rot which "occurs when water gets into poorly ventilated areas of buildings and fungus starts to decay the timber." All wooden structures are susceptible to dry rot, however, damage and decay can be prevented with proper waterproofing and regular maintenance.

In this case, the property and building managers bore a responsibility to provide for the safety and security of apartment tenants. In addition to interior components of an apartment, a landlord’s legal responsibilities also extend to and include exterior components of a building and tenants have the right to expect that their balconies are structurally sound and safe.

Source: ABCNews.com, "Estimated 6,500 Injured in Deck Collapses Since 2003," Lisa Leff and Martha Mendoza, June 18, 2015

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