In the wake of last week's horrifying, deadly balcony collapse in Berkeley, a lot of us have probably found ourselves wondering how we know that the structures we're sunbathing and grilling on are actually safe, especially now that we're hitting peak balcony season.
The cause of the Berkeley tragedy seems to have been severe dry rot in the balcony's wooden joists, according to preliminary reports. While you won't find too many wooden balconies around the city, as we've written previously, it's still important to keep an eye out for signs of water damage, particularly after the winter has passed. Check for any visible cracks or discoloration, which could mean water has corroded the concrete and rebar that make up most balconies.
It's also important to make sure your balcony rails are secure, both by looking for signs of rusting, and giving them a firm shake. (If they don't move—and if they include vertical bars to support the main rail—you should be good.) While balconies should be inspected by a professional every year or so, depending on your landlord, board, or management company, this isn't always the reality of the situation.
"NYC's Facade Inspection and Safety Program (FISP) is a law that requires owners of buildings taller than six stories to provide inspection reports once every five years documenting the condition of building facades and any appurtenances such as balconies and handrails," explains Cynthia Graffeo, director of client relations at Argo Real Estate. After an accident in 2013, Graffeo notes, the FISP laws were amended to also require balcony railings and connections to be checked for structural integrity. If your landlord or property manager is sending someone by for an inspection, keep in mind that only qualified architects or engineers are technically allowed to perform FISP inspections and file reports with the city (so if your super says his cousin the contractor checked it out and everything's hunky dory, you may have cause to be skeptical).
If you suspect yours has been neglected, plug your address into the DOB database to check for past inspections, and if your landlord has been dropping the ball (or won't respond to your requests for an inspection), call 311 to have them someone stop by and take a look.