Xanadu Villas condo rental violates town electric code

dburley@islandpacket.comJune 21, 2014 

An owner at a second condominium complex on Hilton Head Island has divided a unit and hindered access to an electrical panel, town officials and condo owners say.

The owner at Xanadu Villas on South Forest Beach Drive violated electric code by dividing a rental, leaving one of the units without an electrical panel, according to a town fire marshal's report.

The practice increases risk for renters and responding firefighters should an emergency arise, the Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division chief has said.

Xanadu is near Oceanwalk Villas, where the town says it is investigating two similar complaints.

However, some condo owners and residents say the town is not moving fast enough to address possible violations. They say some of the apartments have been permanently sealed for years.

XANADU

A second-floor rental at Xanadu was found in violation of the electric code Jan. 22, in part because a door connecting the main suite to a split unit was permanently sealed shut, according to the report. That left one circuit-breaker box to control two units, giving the tenant of the locked-out unit no access to the electrical panel.

A fire marshal's office inspector and town building official told the management company of the 72-unit complex to remedy the situation, the report says. A town inspector will follow up to make sure the door was opened and other electrical violations resolved, it said.

But the complex's homeowners association president says the unit is still divided, and the town never followed up with the rental company it instructed to correct the problem.

"They should be saying (to the management company), 'This is illegal, why aren't you fixing this?'" said Tom Weatherhead, association president. The homeowners "could be held liable."

Town officials said they did not know the unit was not fixed.

"The issue has now been raised to us," town staff attorney Brian Hulbert said. "We determined (in January) that there was a violation, and we need to make sure it's corrected."

Town chief code inspector Chris Yates said he did not follow up because he was never called by the owner.

The violation was discovered during a courtesy inspection, which occurs when an owner or rental company self-reports a potential violation, he said.

"We did this as a courtesy, and we let them know what they needed to do," he said. "There wasn't a need to issue a citation."

In this instance, Yates said, he relied on the property-management company to hire an electrician, get a work permit from the town and fix the problem. Once the problem was fixed, the owner was to call Yates for another inspection, he said.

But the work permit never came through, according to Yates, who checked town records Friday. "Apparently no one ever contacted an electrician to come in, draw a permit and do an inspection."

Hulbert said a different department manages work orders and permits.

Building inspectors "don't stay on top of that," Hulbert said. "That's not work they do on a daily basis."

Weatherhead said it is not clear when the unit was divided. Attempts to reach the unit's owner, Jerry Shorb, were unsuccessful.

In an email to the property management company in January, Shorb said the company had his "permission to follow up with the fire marshal/building inspectors ... to fix whatever is required," according to the fire marshal's report.

The property management company, Vacation Time Hilton Head, no longer manages Xanadu. Attempts to reach a Vacation Time representative were unsuccessful.

Xanadu's new property managers, IMC Resort Services, have agreed to help fix the apartment, Weatherhead said.

OCEANWALK

Months after the divided Xanadu unit was found in violation, the town says it continues to investigate complaints that a neighboring complex, Oceanwalk Villas, has at least two units permanently separated into more than one rental each.

The two complaints were filed in May, and lead town building inspector Bob Klein said June 16 he planned to investigate last week.

On Friday, Klein said he's talked to one of the Oceanwalk unit owners and plans to visit Monday.

He said the owner of the other unit has not responded to phone calls.

"We're not getting much cooperation to do that investigation," he said.

Oceanwalk residents and owners-board members have said at least half of the 79 apartments are split and rented as more than one unit. IMC Resort Services, which also recently took over management at Oceanwalk Villas, has said it is encouraging the condo owners board to vote to eliminate the divided units.

Fire Chief Lavarn Lucas has said that one electrical panel for two or more units could pose a risk for firefighters and renters.

For example, if a faulty wire was smoldering inside a wall, it would be easier to shut down the panel rather than break through the wall to find the smoking wire, he said. But that panel would be hard to find and shut down if it were in a different apartment, he said last week.

Hulbert said Friday the town can only investigate formal complaints about particular units, even if there are possible code violations and life-safety issues in other units.

"We're not going door-to-door and inspecting each one," he said. "It will have to be brought to us as a complaint and then we will respond. Without a complaint, there's no violation."

Town Councilman George Williams, who represents a part of the South Forest Beach area, said he is confident the complaints will be resolved.

"It's being investigated," he said. "The fire marshal and code enforcement will do what they need to do."

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

Related content:

Subdivided condos at Oceanwalk a safety concern for some residents, June 13, 2014

Town of Hilton Head investigating 2 condos at Oceanwalk Villas for possible violations, June 16, 2014

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