Partiers Hurt in Balcony Collapse

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The front page of the Nov. 19, 1992, print edition of The Malibu Times details a deadly deck collapse that occurred just steps from where this weekend’s incident happened. 

Nearly a dozen people were hurt, two critically, after a balcony collapsed at a beachfront home on Pacific Coast Highway last weekend. The accident happened Saturday, May 8, shortly after 5 p.m. at a home that was being rented as an STR (short-term rental), reportedly through the website VRBO.

According to multiple reports, the homeowner who rented out the house told the renter she only would allow six guests at the property and would not allow parties. However, neighbors alerted the owner that dozens of people were arriving at the home. Security footage from a neighboring property shows at least 15 people crowded on a back deck perched 15 feet over jagged rocks along the shoreline when it collapsed. 

Los Angeles County Fire Captain Ron Haralson, speaking to news crews on the scene, said it appeared the deck was overcrowded. 

“I’m not sure what the deck would be rated at, but for a residential home it would appear there were a lot of persons—potentially adding a lot of weight,” Haralson said.

The homeowner claimed she phoned the LA County Sheriff’s Department, who told her they could not respond because it was a “civil matter.” The owner also claimed she phoned her short-term renter and pleaded to shut down what guests now claim was a birthday party just moments before the calamity. The owner said guests dismantled her security cameras, but a neighbor’s camera caught the footage of the crowded deck crumbling and sending more than a dozen partygoers onto the rocky beach below.

Malibu’s main artery was closed Saturday evening for a short while east of Las Flores so emergency crews could access the scene at 20526 W. PCH. Nine people were hurt from the fall onto the rocky shoreline. Five were treated at the scene and released. The others were taken to hospitals. Two were reported with critical injuries and remained hospitalized as of Monday, May 10.

The owner claimed that, along with the damage to the deck, the house was also vandalized. 

The Malibu Times called the city seeking a statement about the event and STR code enforcement. While Code Enforcement Manager Doug Cleavenger declined an interview, the city later issued this general statement:

“The City of Malibu sends its wishes for a full and speedy recovery to the people who were injured during the collapse of a balcony at a house in Malibu on the evening of Saturday, May 8. 

“The property in question had a valid short-term rental permit with the city in line with the city’s short-term rental ordinance. Malibu Code Enforcement is investigating any potential violations of occupancy limits of that permit or any other issues with that property, and [Malibu Department of Building and Safety] staff are investigating the incident as well.

“In response to the balcony collapse, the building has been red tagged in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.”

Beginning on Jan. 15, 2021, the city’s new STR ordinance went into effect. The ordinance required all properties listed to obtain a city-issued permit, as well as meet some other criteria, including prominently posting the city’s “code of conduct” for short-term rentals, limiting gatherings to fewer than 15 people without an event permit. 

A more stringent “hosted” ordinance, which would require homeowners to be present during rental periods, is still in the works but has not yet been finalized or approved. 

The balcony collapse is the latest tragedy befalling STRs in Malibu. Earlier this year, in January, a young man was killed and were two injured in a house fire at a short-term rental on Rambla Pacifico, just outside Malibu city limits.

This is also not the first tragic balcony collapse in Malibu. In 1992 at a rented beachfront condominium located just steps away from Saturday’s accident, a strikingly similar incident occurred. More than 30 people were crowded onto a wooden balcony when a rusty beam buckled and collapsed. Party-goers plunged 20 feet into crashing waves. Two people died and 29 were hurt with injuries ranging from concussions to broken bones. It took 35 paramedics fighting off churning ocean water to get to the victims.