- Kristina Webb Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
It’s time to take down your hurricane shutters, Palm Beach County.
Nearly two months after Hurricane Irma littered the area with debris, code enforcement crews are hitting the streets with another eyesore to monitor: shutters and plywood covering windows and doors.
In Wellington, code requires residents remove hurricane shutters from windows within 72 hours of “a storm event.” When a homeowner is absent — that includes residents who may be seasonal — shutters can be up for two 15-day periods during hurricane season.
With code enforcement tied up with Irma cleanup, residents had an informal grace period. But as hurricane season comes to a close on Nov. 30, the time has come for the shutters to be taken down, Wellington Assistant Village Manager Jim Barnes said.
“You can’t leave your shutters on your home year-round,” he said.
In West Palm Beach, permitted shutters can remain up indefinitely per city code, but unpermitted shutters or plywood need to be taken down unless there is a watch or warning in effect. In 2007, the West Palm Beach Commission voted to mandate shutters be taken down within three days of a storm. It later repealed the ordinance after social agencies raised concern about forcing seniors to take such quick action.
While the rules are somewhat about the aesthetics of having homes scattered throughout neighborhoods with shutters covering their windows, there is bigger concern.
“It’s a life safety issue,” Barnes said.
Palm Beach County Fire Rescue encourages residents to remove shutters as soon as possible following a storm. In early October, Fire Rescue crews were forced to cut through aluminum storm shutters to save a man after his Acreage home caught fire. And in 2012, a Fire Rescue team had to force open shutters to battle a blaze at an Aero Club home. No one was home at the time of that fire.
Many HOAs in Palm Beach County already have sent warning notices to residents.
One neighborhood in Lake Clarke Shores took the approach of a blanket heads-up to property owners: “While we near the end of hurricane season there are a handful of residents that still have their shutters and or plywood on the windows,” the note reads, adding that residents have until Nov. 5 to comply. “Keeping them up poses a potential safety hazard and it is important for them to be taken down promptly.”
Still, some residents were hesitant to handle their cumbersome plywood and metal window coverings as Hurricane Jose threatened Florida hot on the heels of Irma. However, a drive through some communities in the county now shows a few homes that still have plywood covering windows on their top floors or side windows.
“I can honestly say mine are still up cause I’m a single mom and just haven’t had the manpower to help,” said Kristen Lee Winner of Loxahatchee said Thursday.
A neighbor who helped her put up the shutters has been unavailable to help her take them down.
“I have two teens but they are only with me every other week, and so busy with school and volunteering elsewhere,” she added.
Stacie Draper said she put up metal and plastic shutters on her Acreage home 24 hours before Hurricane Irma came barreling through. They’ve been on her house since, and she plans to take them down this weekend.
“With the crazy weather we have had, I didn’t care if they were up all season,” she said.
Property owners first will receive a warning in Wellington, Barnes said. “Ultimately our goal isn’t to make it punitive, our goal is compliance,” he added.
Residents will have a set period of time in which they need to comply with the warning. Those who need more time, depending on the circumstances, can get an extension, Barnes said.
Homeowners also could face a separate warning and possible fines from homeowners’ associations, many of which have strict rules about how long shutters can remain on windows, Barnes said.
Palm Beach County Code Enforcement Director Robert Santos-Alborna said if a home is boarded up with hurricane shutters, state code requires there be emergency escape openings in every room, but it doesn’t specify a number of days they can be covered. If a home is vacant, the shutters can remain up indefinitely.
“A lot of people complain because it can be unsightly,” Santos-Alborna said. “But there is nothing under property maintenance code that forbids it.”
Barnes said safety is the important factor.
“It does make it an issue if there’s a fire,” he said.