In the wake of Tropical Storm/Category 1 Hurricane Elsa, and with September being National Preparedness Month, hurricane preparations are top of mind for many owners and associations, as are considerations for how long hurricane shutters, plywood, or other protective window coverings should remain in place following an active threat of a storm.
Section 718.113(5) of the Florida Condominium Act requires each board of administration of a residential condominium to adopt hurricane shutter specifications for each building within each condominium operated by the association. The specifications must address permitted color, style, and may address “other factors deemed relevant by the board.” Further, all specifications adopted by the board must also comply with the applicable building code. There is no similar language in the Florida Homeowners’ Association Act, found at Chapter 720 of the Florida Statutes, and we are not aware of any initiatives on this point ever being brought to the Legislature. However, hurricane shutters are often still an item of interest in non-condominium communities.
The question of how long hurricane shutters or protective window coverings like plywood can remain up following a storm depends both on the local codes and ordinances regulating the home or unit, and the terms of your association’s governing documents. First, the Florida Fire Prevention Code and the Florida Building Code are interrelated statutes governing construction and life safety systems for the protection of all Florida residents and emergency personnel. These laws do not include a deadline by which shutters or plywood must be removed following a storm or distinguish between occupied and unoccupied dwellings.
Local codes and ordinances, which may or may not distinguish between occupied and unoccupied homes or units, may also be applicable. Some local governments prohibit the “boarding up” of windows generally, including by hurricane shutters or plywood, except when deployed for a pending storm, and further require they must be removed within 30 days after the storm passes regardless of whether the home or unit is unoccupied.
Some local codes further provide that where windows are covered for more than 30 days, the coverings are expressly considered a public nuisance in violation of the code. By comparison, other local governments permit owners to leave permitted storm shutters, panels, or other approved hurricane protection devices on the windows of a structure that is unoccupied for up to 30 days after the end of hurricane season.
Additionally, an association’s governing documents may also include hurricane shutter or protective window covering deployment and removal requirements, which may be stricter than local ordinance and would control if reasonable and duly adopted.
The duration of hurricane protection measures over windows is a controversial issue in many communities. Some argue that if they are away during hurricane season, they have no realistic way to protect their property against storm damage unless they board up their windows or deploy their hurricane shutters before leaving. Others argue that covered windows for an extended period of time throughout the community is aesthetically displeasing and perhaps also an invitation to criminals.
When shutters are closed, emergency responders may also not know if a dwelling is unoccupied and may try to gain entry to rescue occupants, even though the home is empty. This may delay efforts for emergency personnel to rescue others that are actually present elsewhere within the building. Further, there are some concerns that hurricane shutters trap heat and smoke inside the structure, making it harder for emergency responders to get inside, and more dangerous when they do.
Given the fair points on both sides of this controversial issue, it is advised that associations confer with their legal counsel to understand if local codes and ordinances are applicable, if this is an issue that can be addressed through a board adopted rule or whether an amendment to the declaration is required, and what the association’s enforcement options and procedures are. It is also advisable that associations seek input and recommendations from their insurers since there are both life and property safety considerations at play.
To read the original CAI Community Voice article, please click here.
Katie Berkey is a Board Certified Specialist in City, County and Local Government Law and a certified Professional Planner by the American Institute of Certified Planners; she is also a shareholder with Becker & Poliakoff. Katie represents a variety of clients in zoning, land use, and planning matters. To learn more, please click here.