Health and Safety precautions for Community Associations during the Covid-19 Outbreak
The state of emergency caused by the Coronavirus pandemic has been of great concern to everyone these days. Business and governments have scrambled to establish protocol and implement guidelines and regulations to contain the spread of the virus. There is currently a plethora of information available to the public in the form of legal declarations and recommendations for health and safety purposes. However, there appears to be no clear directive regarding common element area fitness standards for local communities that are governed by Association Boards.
Of course, Community Associations are not an exception to the rule that bans must continue to be enforced as to public gatherings. In normal times, by their very nature, these contained neighborhoods routinely encouraged residents and their guests to gather together on a regular basis. As a result of this crisis, Boards must now put into place procedures to protect all members of the community. Associations should be especially diligent in safeguarding seniors, disabled persons, and those individuals that may have compromised immune systems.
Most Condominium and Homeowners’ Associations (HOA’s) include Common Element areas that they are responsible for such as clubhouses, pools, patios, elevators and building stairwells. These sections require maintenance and cleaning to be conducted on a regular basis. Boards, management companies and outside vendors should take precautions against the spread of the virus if they have not already done so. The most important tools that Boards may use are the existing statutes and governing documents of their Association. They should review their documents and consult with their legal counsel as to available compliance measures to ensure that their covenants, rules and regulations allow for effective enforcement. This may include the lock down of clubhouse and pool areas and increased communication and support to be provided to resident members.
Many Associations have already purchased and stored extra cleaning products, sanitizer, latex gloves and masks to maintain the environments that they are responsible for. Community centers, pool houses and patio areas should remain closed until further notice by the Governor and Federal authorities. This may even require locks to be changed or the temporary deactivation of key access cards along with placards to be posted on outside doorways reminding residents of the present regulatory situation.
If these areas have not yet been cleaned thoroughly with sanitizer or bleach products, they should be sanitized immediately and then again on a weekly basis. For pools and clubhouses, many of which have not yet opened for the season, this includes wiping down pool deck chairs, fences, gates, restrooms, kitchens and pool shower areas. Also, mail pavilions that are accessible to residents that include exterior mailboxes ought to be cleaned daily and Association mail should be disinfected before it is distributed to Board members. Alternate means of communication with residents by Boards is recommended, such as phone and video conferencing as allowed for in governing documents. Annual and Special Meetings may require remote access in the future for discussion and voting purposes. Accordingly, Boards need to budget to obtain the necessary equipment to communicate effectively with residents.
Common Element areas located in resident buildings, such as doors, hallways and stairwells, should have their handles and railings cleaned regularly by temporary maintenance persons until cleaning service crews are brought back. This may take some concerted effort by Boards and their recruited volunteers to exercise established procedures in shifts and to keep diligent cleaning records. Recommended guidelines and updates require reporting to members at meetings, on the Association’s website, and through electronic newsletters.
If the Board or management personnel receive complaints from residents regarding others not following the rules, then those persons can be individually warned in writing. As a result, per applicable Bylaw notice procedures, default notices will be sent to individuals for failure to follow community rules. In the most egregious circumstances, police or health departments will require notification to get involved.
Some Community Boards might be persuaded to use volunteers patrolling in vehicles, or even drones, to surveil their common area grounds to ensure gatherings are not occurring and that other directives are being followed. Residents may also be tempted to take videos on their phones of scofflaws for complaint purposes. This will surely seem Draconian to some and not advisable from a privacy standpoint depending on the situation. Boards should be careful not to react inappropriately harsh to avoid unnecessary conflict within their neighborhoods.
In these difficult times, let’s help each other to ensure that health measures are followed to ensure the safety of everyone. In the spirit of community, make a good faith effort to reach out to compromised neighbors to ensure they have the necessities that they require. If we all do our part in caring for those living around us, together we will beat this horrible scourge that has changed our present daily lives in so many ways.
John D. Gwyn focuses his practice on the representation of community associations, management companies and developers with a particular emphasis on real estate and commercial litigation. He has handled many types of community association related matters including assessment collections, lien foreclosures, bylaw violations, civil rights defense and creditor bankruptcy matters. Mr. Gwyn has gained experience in community association law over the years through his representation of condominium and homeowners associations, as well as individual homeowners, in matters involving real estate, contract, and construction defect litigation issues. His extensive litigation and transactional background provides him with the experience necessary to handle even the most complex legal issues that neighborhood associations may encounter. He may be reached at (734) 261-2400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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