by Thomas C. Schild and Scott J. Silverman
A new phase of the increasingly widespread Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) unfolded in mid-March, 2020 as federal, state, and local governments recommended that everyone Stay Home to limit the spread of the coronavirus. New restrictions have been imposed on restaurants, bars, gyms and other public places. Schools are closed and many retail stores are closing for at least several weeks… and maybe much longer. Government health officials recommend that group gatherings be limited to no more than 10 people.
While the duration and impact of COVID-19 locally and throughout the United States is still unknown, it is certain that condominiums, homeowner associations, and housing co-operatives must adapt their practices and procedures to the ongoing health crisis. More owners and residents will be staying home. In multi-family high-rise and mid-rise buildings, this will mean increased use of common area lobbies, hallways, elevators and stairs. Some residents may want to use common amenities such sitting areas in halls and lobbies, gyms and meeting rooms. In HOA communities, there may be greater interest in using playgrounds and clubhouse facilities.
Although we defer to medical and health professionals on how to best protect against the spread of COVID-19, we offer a few practical tips on how community association boards, managers, and residents might adapt the management and operation of their community to the expected increase in the number of residents who are Staying Home.
1. Limit Interactions Among Residents and Staff.
We strongly urge community association leaders to follow the recommendations of the federal, state and local governments to protect against infection by engaging in social distancing and enhanced hygiene practices. This might include restricting residents from congregating in common area halls, lobbies, mailbox areas, clubhouses and other common areas. It might also include limiting association maintenance staff from performing in-unit maintenance, except for emergency work, and limiting in-person meetings in the management office.
2. Close Common Recreational Amenities.
To limit transmission of the coronavirus, the Board should close common recreational amenities such as gyms, meeting rooms, play equipment and clubhouses. As pool season nears, it is likely that state and local health officials will not allow pools to open. In any event, the Board may postpone the opening of pools and should discuss this with the pool management company.
3. Increase Cleaning and Hygiene in Common Areas.
As far as the maintenance of association property is concerned, we encourage condo, co-op and HOA Boards to take all reasonable measures to clean and disinfect those common areas that are necessary to remain in service, such as building entrances and elevators, and to shut down access to all amenities that are not essential, such as community rooms and exercise rooms. Boards should consult with management and independent cleaning contractors as to the current industry standard and practice and follow such standards. We also suggest communicating to residents, employees and guests that essential common areas remaining open and available for use will be routinely cleaned and disinfected. However, individuals should take all recommended measures to protect themselves from infection by limiting their movements outside of their own homes, avoiding contact with surfaces that are commonly touched by other people, and physically distancing themselves from others as much as possible.
4. Inform and Instruct Residents and Staff.
As community association Board members and managers become aware that employees and/or residents have tested positive for the coronavirus or have (or are believed to have) contracted Coronavirus Disease, the Board should affirmatively communicate that information to all residents and employees , without identifying the individual to protect their privacy. Residents should be told that an actual and/or potential infection has been reported to the association, and that residents should routinely check the federal Centers for Disease Control and state and local government websites for information and updates on practices that should be followed to protect themselves and their families from the risk of infection. If the reported instance of infection involves an association employee, the employee should be asked not to come to work until cleared to do so by their health care provider. In general, any individual asking what can be done to avoid infection should be told to contact their health care provider for further information. No community association Board member, employee or manager should provide medical advice to residents or staff.
5. Hold Meetings by Audio or Video Conference Call.
In Maryland and the District of Columbia, community association statutes permit condominiums, cooperatives and homeowners associations to conduct their meetings remotely, so long as all participants can always hear one another throughout the meeting. That means that community association Boards can continue to make necessary decisions pertaining to their ongoing operations. Homeowners can protect their own health because they will not have to congregate together to do the business of the association, whether that business includes the elections scheduled to occur at the annual meeting or the budget discussion and approval to take place at a board meeting. For example, if the Board or management were to set up a conference call line, homeowners could call into that meeting and participate in that manner. For owner annual meetings and special meetings, owners can vote by proxy without attending in person. In Maryland, statutes allow homeowners to vote by electronic means in elections, or for governing document amendments, or to approve other actions that may be authorized only by a vote of the homeowners.
For YOUR community!
For condominium, homeowner association, and cooperative boards and managers, we are available by phone (301-251-1414) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com) to advise you and respond to your questions and concerns regarding the impact of COVID-19 on community association rules, practices and procedures.
Meanwhile, we wish you the best and hope that all stay safe and healthy!
Posted by Thomas Schild Law Group, LLC, attorneys for condominiums, homeowner associations, and housing cooperatives in Maryland–including Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Howard County, and Baltimore County; and in Baltimore City and Washington, D.C.