I-Team: Beach rental danger

July 28, 2010 5:47:56 PM PDT
It doesn't get much better than summertime on the North Carolina coast. The sand, the surf, it's great to relax and spend time with family.

"It's completely relaxing. I sit and stare at the ocean. It's mesmerizing," offered Raleigh lawyer Bill Conley.

But Conley says he's haunted by the collapse of a deck at a house he rented at Emerald Isle in July of 1994.

"We had this sensation of the deck pulling away from the house," he recalled. "The sensation was kinda disbelief of what you were seeing. The deck all of a sudden was not attached to the wall anymore, and then just a sensation of falling through the air."

Conley was celebrating his parent's 50th anniversary. Eleven people were on the second floor deck - posing for a picture - when it came crashing down.

Some family members had broken bones.

"Blood, screaming, and eventually ambulances coming, and obviously the police, and everyone else getting all of us to the hospital in Carteret County," Conley recalled.

In the days after the deck collapse, Conley figured out what went wrong.

"The only thing holding that deck up … [was] nails. There were no support posts. There were no lag bolts. The vast majority of those nails were completely rusted," he said.

Conley's case isn't unique.

Last month, seven people were hurt when the deck at a rental house at Holden Beach came crashing down.

The building inspector said afterwards that fasteners on the deck corroded in the ocean air.

New Hanover County builder Bryant Bass says beach homes need special maintenance.

"Salt air just ruins everything," he explained. "Everything down here is constantly maintained. It has to be maintained yearly."

Bass showed investigative reporter Steve Daniels a deck built to the current requirements.

"This is the five-eighths galvanized bolt that's holding the structure to the house and underneath it is a two by four ledger strip," he said.

"This looks like a solid deck. This is something you want to stand on," offered Daniels.

"Oh absolutely, this isn't going anywhere," said Bass.

But, Bass showed us examples of poorly built and poorly maintained decks that could be dangerous.

"This deck is not bolted, in any way shape or form to the house. It's just nailed to the house," he explained. "Today, that would never pass code."

And some of the nails in the deck he showed us were rusty.

The I-Team discovered that after beach front rental houses are built, there's no requirement to inspect them. That means families who are spending up to $5,000 a week to rent homes, have no assurance their families are safe.

Bass says when you arrive at the beach, you need to look out for yourself and do your own inspection.

"If you don't see very many bolts holding the structure to the house, then I would ask questions," he offered.

And if a deck is just nailed to the home?

"You need to ask some questions. It's probably not going to support a proper amount of weight," said Bass.

After living through a deck collapse, Bill Conley pushed the Legislature to pass a law that holds property management companies and beach home owners liable for accidents.

"Hopefully, this problem and these types of accidents will be prevented," he said. "We'd like to believe there are a lot less because of that law's change."

And Conley has advice for us all: Take a minute to inspect any deck you're putting your family on.

"We always take a look now. I would never have thought of it before but we think of it now every time," he said.

The I-Team also discovered that in Florida, property management companies are required to get beach rental houses inspected every year.

There are no requirements like that in North Carolina.

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