Update, Monday, March 13: The city of Berkeley says the property owner has sought, and received, a two-week extension to complete the inspection and report required by the city following the mysterious deaths of a young couple and their cats in a South Berkeley apartment in January. City spokesman Matthai Chakko said Monday that, in exchange for the extension, the city required the property owner to shut off the gas to all appliances in the unit at 3028 Deakin where the tragedy took place. Berkeleyside will continue to follow the story.
Original story, Feb. 28, 9 a.m. The apartment where a young Berkeley couple and their cats were found dead in January has been “red tagged” by city staff, and the building owner has been directed to have the unit inspected by a licensed contractor before anyone can live there again.
The process, which is called an “unsafe building notice,” is typically used after earthquake damage or fires, city spokesman Matthai Chakko told Berkeleyside on Monday.
Roger and Val Morash, 35 and 32 years old, were found dead in their home, along with their two pet cats, at 3028 Deakin St. on Jan. 23. Since then, the city has been trying to figure out what led to those fatalities.
The Berkeley Police Department, which initially classified the matter as “suspicious” due to its unusual circumstances, concluded that carbon monoxide caused the tragic deaths. But the source of the carbon monoxide has not been identified.
Last week, BPD handed its investigation over to the city’s Building and Safety Division, Chakko said, in response to a Berkeleyside query.
Thursday, city staff posted a red placard on the unit where the couple died to make it clear it is unsafe to enter.
Now, the property owner is required to have a mechanical engineer, or a mechanical contractor licensed in California, inspect the unit and evaluate it to determine what sort of unsafe conditions might have contributed to the presence of carbon monoxide.
“Nobody is allowed to occupy that unit until the city gets this report,” Chakko said. “There are still questions about the unit.”
The city had PG&E and the Berkeley Fire Department conduct multiple tests in the Morash’s unit, but the results were inconclusive. The tests took place on more than one occasion.
Last week, the city offered to test the other three units in the building, though the red placard only applies to the one where the couple died. Chakko said he couldn’t share details about any of those tests because the police investigation has not been made public.
“If anything is found, a corrective notice will be issued,” Chakko said.
The mechanical expert’s inspection and evaluation report must be turned back in to the city within 15 days from Thursday.
If corrective work needs to be done, all building permits must be obtained within 10 days following that determination. All work must be completed, and all inspections passed, within 90 days, or prior to re-occupancy.
Only after that process is complete will the city rescind the unsafe unit notice, Chakko said.
PG&E has said previously it could not discuss building history or confirm whether the property is heated by gas.
Although the source of the carbon monoxide has not been determined, a former tenant of the unit where the couple lived reached out to Berkeleyside to say she hopes authorities take a close look at the heater as part of their investigation.
She said the unit is small but has two floors, with a heater on the ground story.
“I know that the heating unit in that apartment was an extremely old wall mounted unit. In hindsight, it did not seem safe,” she said. “I don’t know if that had anything to do with their unfortunate deaths, but I do hope that investigators are looking into the heating unit.”
According to a friend of the couple, there was a working carbon monoxide detector in the unit, but its location may have limited its ability to identify a problem in time.