The Town of Hilton Head Island has ordered owners of subdivided condos to stop sealing off one unit from another in a way that limits emergency access.
Two owners at Oceanwalk and Xanadu villas, in the South Forest Beach Drive area, have been told to remove obstacles that leave one unit in their subdivided condos without an accessible circuit-breaker panel, according to deputy director of community development Jill Foster.
The practice increases risk for renters and responding firefighters in an emergency, the chief of the Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division has said. It also violates town code, which requires that residents have access to the panel.
At the Xanadu condo, a refrigerator is blocking the door that separates the units. The owner must move the refrigerator in the next few days, Foster said.
At the Oceanwalk condo, the unit without a panel is divided by a door that can only be unlocked with a key. The owner has until Saturday to make the unit with the panel accessible without a key, Foster said.
If that gives the renter without a panel easy access to the other unit, "that's not the town's concern," she said. "That's between the property owner, the rental company and the people living in the units. Our concern is having ready access to the electrical panel."
Foster said town inspectors will follow up to make sure the problems are fixed.
The two violations were found during an investigation of five condos at Oceanwalk and Xanadu.
No violations were found at two Oceanwalk condos, Foster said. Inspectors are still trying to contact the owner of another.
Oceanwalk residents have warned that half of the 79 condos are permanently divided. Xanadu owners board president Tom Weatherhead has said he thinks only two or three of its 72 condos are divided.
The town has said it will investigate only those units for which complaints are filed.
Foster said the town will work with IMC Resort Services, the property-management company for Oceanwalk and Xanadu, to inform renters about the safety hazards of dividing the units.
IMC vice president Craig Fenstermaker said he does not believe there are many sealed units. He said the complexes' owners boards have recommended that owners unseal those that are.
"We will certainly cooperate with the town whenever possible, but we cannot give access to any villas without the owner's consent," he said in an email.
Attempts to reach Oceanwalk and Xanadu owners board members were unsuccessful.
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- Complaints added against Oceanwalk Villas on Hilton Head, July 2, 2014