By Thomas C. Schild and Scott J. Silverman
When Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) was declared a pandemic in mid-March, 2020, state and local governments in Maryland and Washington, D.C. ordered that most everyone stay home to limit the spread of the coronavirus. After several months of staying home and restrictions on gathering in public places, business and social activity in Maryland and the District of Columbia stated Phase 2 re-opening in late June, 2020.
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 cooperatives must continue to adapt their practices and procedures to the ongoing health crisis. With most offices in the Washington region likely to remain closed until September, 2020 or longer, many residents are still staying home and working at home. Schools may not fully open until 2021, which means school-age children and their parents will continue to be home.
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 can adapt the management and operation of their community to limit the risk of illness…and legal liability.
1. Limit Interactions Among Residents and Staff. Community association leaders should follow the requirements and recommendations of the federal, state and local governments to protect against infections by engaging in social distancing and enhanced hygiene practices. Additionally, face masks can be required when residents, staff, and contractors are on any common area.
This might include restricting residents from congregating in common areas, and limiting association maintenance staff from performing in-unit maintenance except for emergency work.
2. Common Recreational Amenities. To limit transmission of the coronavirus, many Boards have closed common recreational amenities such as gyms, meeting rooms, play equipment, swimming pools and clubhouses. With pool season underway, state and local health officials have enacted restrictions and procedures for opening and use of public and private pools. Any community association pools and other recreational facilities which are opened should, at a mininium, follow state and local standards and guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
When re-opening recreational facilities, community rules for use of these areas should be reviewed and revised as needed to implement health and safety standards. This might include resident confirmation of their health status and exposure to COVID-positive persons, and a disclaimer and liability waiver as a condition for use of community facilities.
3. Increase Cleaning and Hygiene in Common Area. Condo, HOA and co-op boards should continue take all reasonable measures to clean and disinfect common areas, especially high-touch features such as building entrances and elevators. Boards should consult with management, cleaning contractors and the CDC website as the current industry standards and practices and follow those standards.
Records of cleaning should be kept and residents should be informed of the plan for routinely cleaning and disinfecting common areas. However, all residents should be asked to take all recommended measures to protect themselves from infection by limiting their movement outside of their homes, avoiding contact with surfaces that commonly touched by other people, physically distancing from others, and wearing a face mask.
4. Inform and Instruct Residents and Staff. As community association Board members and mangers become aware that residents and/or employees have tested positive for the coronavirus or have contracted COVID-19, gthe Board should 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 CDC website and local and state websites for information and updates on practices that should be followed to protect themselves and their family from the risk of infection. If an employee reports having COVID-19, or exposure to others who are infected, the employee should be instructed not to come to work until cleared to do so by their health care provider.
No community association board member, employee or manager should provide medical advice to residents or staff.
5. Hold Meetings by Audio or Video Call. In Maryland and the District of Columbia, community association statutes permit condominiums, homeowner associations, and housing cooperatives to conduct board meetings remotely, so long as all participants can always hear one another throughout the meeting. This allows boards to make necessary decisions and protect the health of homeowners who can attend by audio or video calls.
For owner annual and special meetings, owners can vote by proxy or by electronic means as permitted by statute and association governing documents.
For YOUR community! For condominium, homeowner association, and housing coop boards and managers in Maryland and the District of Columbia, we are available by phone (301-251-1414) and email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to respond to your questions and concerns regarding the impact of COVID-19 on your community’s rules, practices and procedures.
Posted by Thomas Schild Law Group, LLC, attorneys for condominiums, homeowners associations, and housing cooperatives in Maryland — including Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Frederick County, Howard County and Baltimore County; and Baltimore City and Washington, D.C.