Partiers scramble to free people trapped under a collapsed balcony on Del Playa Drive.

Courtesy Photo

Partiers scramble to free people trapped under a collapsed balcony on Del Playa Drive.

Isla Vista Balcony Collapse Victim Files Lawsuit

Landlord and Fraternity Blame Each Other for Deltopia Incident

Tuesday, May 7, 2013
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The tenants of 6643 Del Playa Drive — senior house of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity on Isla Vista’s main party drag — claim their landlord was well aware of their apartment building’s rickety and rotted second-story balcony before it collapsed during a party on April 6, sending four people to the hospital. “They knew about it for months and did nothing,” claimed Matt Davidson. But Ron Wolfe of property management company Ronald Wolfe & Associates said his office never heard from the frat brothers about any such structural issues and had no knowledge of potential safety problems. “If they felt there was something wrong with the deck, I’m surprised,” he said. “We have no records from the tenants about the deck.”

Evidence of dry rot where the balcony was attached to the building.
Click to enlarge photo

Courtesy Photo

Evidence of dry rot where the balcony was attached to the building.

Late last month, a lawsuit was filed in Santa Barbara Superior Court against Ronald Wolfe & Associates — as well as the building’s owner, the Elliot Family Trust — on behalf of Stephanie Grace, a 21-year-old UCSB student from Los Angeles. Grace was knocked unconcious and pinned under the balcony when it buckled under the weight of 20 or so people partaking in the massive Deltopia party that drew nearly 18,000 revelers from all over the state. Grace suffered a fractured pelvis, has had to stop working as a campus lifeguard, and is struggling to finish her senior year classes so she can graduate on time, explained her attorney Robert Clayton of the L.A.-based firm Taylor & Ring, LLP.

Claiming Wolfe & Associates was negligent in the upkeep of the Del Playa home and is liable for Grace’s injuries, the lawsuit is seeking compensation for past and future medical bills and loss of earnings. Clayton noted the case is in its early stages and that his investigation is ongoing, so he declined to name a final dollar amount. He said, though, that Grace’s medical bills have reached $25,000 and are climbing, and that she doesn’t have health insurance. “You also never know about long-term pain,” he said. Another student hurt in the accident has retained Clayton as an attorney, but has yet to file a complaint. She sustained multiple fractures to her left tibia and now has a steel rod in her shin, he said.

In an interview last Friday, Wolfe said he hadn’t read the lawsuit and so couldn’t comment on its specific claims. “At this point it appears there are a lot of unsupported allegations,” he said. “I’m confident that once facts are bared out, we will be cleared of wrongdoing.” And why, he wondered, if the tenants knew the balcony was unsafe would they pile so many people on to it? “It appears like a clear misuse of the premise,” he said.

Clayton said he’s spoken with a number of witnesses who claim Wolfe & Associates was aware of the balcony problem, sending out an insurance inspector last November, painting over the rotted and termite-ridden attachments and, giving the renters the “all clear” to use the deck as they pleased. The place was such a mess, Clayton went on, that one tenant described it as “a cross between Animal House and Amityville Horror.” While tenant Matt Davidson contacted The Santa Barbara Independent right after accident to distance himself and his brothers from any fault, attempts to follow up with him and other Beta Theta Pi representatives have been unsuccessful. Clayton said he decided to not include the tenants in the lawsuit because he believes they will be good witnesses and are not to blame for the balcony’s collapse. “California law says the [building] owners have a non-delegable duty, meaning they’re responsible,” he said.

Massoud Abolhoda with the County Planning Department said his office inspects new buildings during their initial construction but that staff don’t often return unless there’s a specific complaint. In 6643 Del Playa Drive’s case, he said, there are no complaints on file. But county officials did visit the site after the collapse, he went on, and found it was “definitely a dry rot case. The wood was greatly undermined.” Because the apartment’s second story window no longer has an emergency exit — the sliding glass door that led to the balcony is now boarded over — Ronald Wolfe & Associates was given 30 days to create a new one, Abolhoda said.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Shocking to read that Wolfe and Associates claims to have no record of any reported issue.. shocking!

I sure do hope that Wolfe is sued into the poor house. They deserve to suffer for all the pain they cause others...pain and suffering with no regard. The company is a parasite.

iamsomeguyinsb (anonymous profile)
May 7, 2013 at 4:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I am SHOCKED by this and other unavoidable things that have happened to me personally.
Once we had 15 people in my VW bug and the shocks broke! Can you believe it? And another time my uncle, who weighs 400 pounds, tried to ride my little sister’s hobby horse, and guess what? IT broke too! If only I knew that I could have SUED!

edukder (anonymous profile)
May 8, 2013 at 8:33 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Hmmm... as much as I deplore W&A and their half-a$$ed idea of property "management", I would actually like to see if there are ANY reports/complaints/notifications sent to W&A regarding that particular unit/balcony, from the past tenants over the last, oh, let's say five years.

If there are any, then that is reason enough to at least place some of the responsibility (these are college-aged people, one would expect they should have a modicum of common for this unfortunate accident, that piling 20+ people on an already questionable balcony is just not safe.

If there weren't any notifications, and W&A wasn't out there doing at least, yearly physical inspections on the structural integrity of what obviously gets abused by most college aged tenants and their guests... then yeah, time for a serious wake-up call for W&A and all property management companies and owners of said rental units.

MotoBella (anonymous profile)
May 8, 2013 at 8:48 a.m. (Suggest removal)

@edukder: SO true...

MotoBella (anonymous profile)
May 8, 2013 at 8:53 a.m. (Suggest removal)

One more thought: If the owner of the property has relied on W&F, a (supposed) professional management company, to properly maintain their building and inform said owners of necessary improvements/repairs... and they just did the bare minimum (paint over visual damage - seriously? although I am not surprised... anything to save an almighty buck) I can just see all the finger pointing back and forth in court now... ugh.

MotoBella (anonymous profile)
May 8, 2013 at 8:58 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Wolfe & ASSociates deserves everything that they have coming to them. During college i also had the misfortune of working with this horrid management company and feel bad for any one else who has or ever will have to in the future.

In our house, our upstairs toilet overflowed in the middle of the night after they blew off our call for maintenance. The water then soaked into the carpet and dry wall. When they finally made it out , they blamed us and said that mold would be starting soon and had to tear out the carpets and dry wall. On top of that they then charged us $2300!!!

When it came time for the return of our security deposit they charged us $1100 for a chip in the sliding screen door track. We disputed this charge for them to only come back and say "oh someone accidentally added an extra 0"...THAT'S A THOUSAND DOLLAR ERROR! wasn't a mistake, this is a crooked company and they should be put out of business for the wrong that have done by taking advantage of so many college students. SHAMEFUL!

bc9688 (anonymous profile)
May 8, 2013 at 9:36 a.m. (Suggest removal)

No, I would not expect college-aged people to know about structural integrity or dry rot. Those are things I learned about as a homeowner around age 30. Much termite damage is invisible anyway. For Wolfe etc. to abrogate responsibility because they've had no complaints is silly. They are the agent of the owner, and it's the owner's responsibility to provide a safe structure for tenants, not merely to respond to complaints. I'm sure they bill the tenants for every iota of wear and tear to the residence. Attorney is suing the responsible parties. Now it will be up to their insurance companies to hammer it out.

Nitz (anonymous profile)
May 8, 2013 at 9:39 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm shocked, shocked to learn that a whole crowd of young people, in a community of 15,000 where the average age is 20, filled a balcony that overlooked the gorgeous Santa Barbara Channel. Who'd of thunk such a thing was possible?

Round up the usual suspects.

pardallchewinggumspot (anonymous profile)
May 8, 2013 at 2:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm sure Wolfe and Associates have verifiable inspection reports of the property.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 8, 2013 at 3:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Absolutely, Ken_Volok. They're probably getting them all ready as I type this response!

You get what you pay for, property owners!

Barron (anonymous profile)
May 8, 2013 at 4:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

From someone who was there, I heard that the people on the balcony were jumping up and down in time to the music, thus magnifying the effect of their weight on the balcony. The brain is not fully formed until age 25.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
May 9, 2013 at 9:31 a.m. (Suggest removal)

You're being awfully generous with your assessment of the average 25 year old male.

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
May 14, 2013 at 6:42 a.m. (Suggest removal)

That Wolfe guy gets what he deserves. We walked out on one of his decks to check the surf a number of years ago after a storm. He started yelling at us about trespassing and waving a fold up saw at us. We were maybe 17? His properties, at least in IV, are junkyards.

bimboteskie (anonymous profile)
May 14, 2013 at 10:22 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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