Safety committee votes to find fixes for Hilton Head ‘lock-out’ units

Some Hilton Head Island neighbors consider it a hazardous living arrangement when owners of condominium units divide a single unit into two and lease them at half price. Called ‘lockout’ as tenants on one side are locked out of their electrical panel, residents in the Forrest Beach area have been protesting the issue for several years. On Monday morning, Hilton Head Island’s public safety committee voted to move the matter to town council for more research and to consider fixes.

“These lockout units are substandard housing. They shouldn’t be occupied,” Jack Daly said of the Ocean Walk and Xanadu condominiums on South Forrest Beach Drive.

Daly is the President of the Forrest Beach Owners Association. He is concerned over tenants’ fire safety, a possible correlation to the cheaper units and crime, and the inconvenience and quality of life impacted by a tenant’s inability to access their electric panel.

“So what we’ve seen a lot of is, people that lived in the locked out side bring in all of this kitchen equipment that was not, the wiring was not built for that, it’s not up to strength for that…and they’ll bring in space heaters and more hair dryers and things that run over current,” Daly said.

Over the course of three years, neighbors like Daly have taken concerns to the state fire marshal; in a letter, Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Shawn Stickle defers opinions to Hilton Head Fire Marshal Joheida Fister. However, Fister says the electrical panel and prevention of ‘Ready Access’ the lockouts cause is a town building code matter, not a fire code issue.

“I don’t believe that it is a fire hazard,” Fister said. “When [tenants] call 911, they are told to get out of their unit and evacuate, not to go to an electrical panel,” she said.

“If we need to get to the electrical panel, we will get to the electrical panel to do our job,” Fister said.

Daly hopes building code enforcers can inspect the property and find solutions.

“No one deserves to live in substandard housing,” he said, “no matter how little rent you can pay, you have every bit of the rights as someone who lives in a million dollar house.”

As for complaints that lockouts cause more crime in the area, the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office says they have done presentations on the incidents worked in the area to town council.

When NEWS 3 asked for a list of types of calls deputies responded to over the last year, Captain Bob Bromage listed incidents such as one armed robbery, two assault & battery, nine disturbances, 10 domestic violence, four noise complaints, one shots fired, several suspicious activity reports, six vandalism, two stolen property, and five narcotics complaints. The list accounts for calls only at Ocean Walk from July 1, 2015 to the present. In some cases official reports were not filed by the responding officer, due to the call being unfounded.

On Monday, the public safety committee recommended town council research police reports filed in the area from the past three years.

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