As expected, the response to the tragic balcony collapse in Berkeley, California that killed six people has been swift but with mixed results. On the local level, the Berkeley City Council voted Tuesday to make several immediate changes to their local building requirements. First, all new balconies must be made of corrosion-resistant materials and be ventilated to prevent the buildup of moisture. While the investigation into the cause of the collapse is still ongoing, investigators have been pointing to the lack of any venting mechanism on these balconies as a potential cause for the alleged dry rot that is believed to be the cause of the collapse. As well, the council mandated that all balconies in Berkeley be inspected within the next six months and every three years after that. No details were given as to what those inspections would entail (visual or destructive) or who would be conducting the inspections. It will be interesting to see whether the city puts the onerous on the owners or whether this will be a city-run initiative.
Meanwhile, on the state level, a bill that would require contractors to disclose past felonies or lawsuits alleging defects, negligence, or fraud to the California State License Board (SB465) died in committee by a vote of 7-3. Only 8 votes were required for the bill to leave committee and be brought to the floor of the state senate for debate. Four of the committee members abstained from voting citing their concerns that the bill was “half-baked” and that there had not been enough time given to work out the specific details with the state licensing board. Supporters of the bill believe that this defeat in committee likely means that the bill has no chance of passing this year.
While there is mounting public pressure for the legislature to do something in response to this tragedy, passing a “half-baked” bill is not the solution. While there may be some logic in reporting requirements for contractors in certain situations, some significant thought must be given into exactly how that will happen and how the CSLB will treat such reports. Simply reporting the total value of a settlement in a construction defect case does not tell the whole story as to the quality of construction or the negligence of the parties involved. Given the relative ease with which construction defect cases are filed in California and the low threshold required for making allegations of negligence and even fraud, some thought has to be given to how the claims will be treated once they are reported to the CSLB and whether the CSLB has the resources available to conduct an evaluation of each claim for purposes of determining which cases warrant any action against a given contractor. It will be interesting to see how this bill evolves over the next few months before it is brought to the floor for debate.