Hilton Head Island Town Council members ignored residents’ requests to release a letter containing a legal opinion on “lock-out” units in condominium complexes prior to taking action on the issue during a regular meeting Tuesday.
The controversial lock-out units divide a rental unit into two or more by locking or caulking a door shut. This allows the owner to collect more rent on the space. Opponents allege a safety risk because renters are unable to access electrical boxes.
A letter with a recommendation on whether the town should allow lock-out units was sent to officials by Columbia law firm Robinson, McFadden & Moore in July but has not been released to the public.
Both proponents and opponents of lock-out units have been asking for the letter to be released in recent weeks.
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The units are common in Oceanwalk Villas near South Forest Beach Drive and in Xanadu Villas.
Bob Hopkins, an owner of a lock-out unit in Oceanwalk, is among the residents who asked that the council release the document.
“I want, overall, more openness about what is going on from the town,” Hopkins said.
Instead of responding to the request, Town Council instead approved a recommendation from the Public Safety Committee to have town staff meet with residents of Oceanwalk Villas along with reviewing the town’s land management ordinance regarding lock-outs.
I want, overall, more openness about what is going on from the town.
Bob Hopkins, lock-out owner
The action is similar to moves proponents and opponents have criticized in the past. Both sides have previously said the town is drawing out a multiple-year argument between the groups.
Henry Sanders, a resident with Xanadu Villas and opponent of the lock-outs, also said he wanted the letter released. Sanders and other opponents have claimed the lock-out units are a fire hazard because they deny renters access to utility boxes.
“They paid a lot of money to get a legal opinion,” Sanders said. “I would guess the letter agrees that there are safety concerns. That is what one would think, but I don’t have any idea because they won’t release the letter.”
Hopkins has said he believes the letter could show that the town has no legal standing to be involved in the issue.
Mayor David Bennett appointed Town Council members David Ames and Thomas Lennox to meet with Oceanwalk officials. He asked town manager Steve Riley to appoint town staff members to the panel.