Complaints added against Oceanwalk Villas on Hilton Head

dburley@islandpacket.comJuly 2, 2014 

ILLUSTRATION

Complaints continue against a Hilton Head Island condo complex where some residents say condominiums are divided into apartments and sealed off from one another in a way that limits emergency access.

Such renovations would violate town code and pose a safety hazard, town officials have said.

The town received complaints Monday about two more condos being divided improperly at Oceanwalk Villas near South Forest Beach Drive, according to chief building inspector Bob Klein. Two other complaints were filed in May, for a total of four. There are 79 units in the complex.

The practice leaves one unit without a circuit-breaker panel, which increases the risk for renters and responding firefighters in an emergency, Brad Tadlock, chief of the Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division, said Tuesday.

Town code prohibits sealing the doors between split condos, Klein has said. The code also requires that residents have access to an electrical panel.

Town officials said they have struggled to make contact with the condo owners at the center of the complaints. Inspectors will work this week to gain access to those apartments to determine if there is a violation, Klein said. More information is expected next week after the inspections have been completed, according to director of community development Charles Cousins.

He also said more information about nearby Xanadu Villas -- where an apartment was found in violation of the electrical code for similar reasons in January -- would be available next week.

Klein said that if violations are found, the town will give owners a reasonable amount of time to fix the problems before a building inspector follows up.

For example, the owner might have 30 days to take down drywall separating units, he said.

That's not fast enough for some Oceanwalk residents. They also believe many more violations are likely to be found.

Lynda Ward, a member of Oceanwalk's owners board, said at least half of the condos have been divided and sealed.

"I am very concerned about the life-safety issue and the risk to residents, guests and first responders," she said Monday.

There is little that owners can do on their own. Condo bylaws require two-thirds of the owners' votes to outlaw the splitting, according to Ward. The board could schedule such a vote this fall, but no date has been set for that meeting.

Ward said it might be difficult to get enough owners together for the vote since many live elsewhere. That's why she hopes the town forces the changes.

"We want to correct the problem, and we want to comply with fire-safety code," she said.

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

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