Coronavirus: Practical Tips for Common Ownership Communities

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 (tschild@schildlaw.com or ssilverman@schildlaw.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.

2020 Vision: Maryland Condominium Legislative Update

Condominium insurance, replacement reserves and dispute resolution procedures were among the condominium and homeowners association topics which were considered during the 2019 Maryland legislative session.  However, virtually no new laws affecting community governance were enacted this year.

Looking ahead to 2020, legislation concerning insurance, reserves and dispute resolution is likely to introduced again.

Condominium Insurance Deductibles

Where damage to condominium units and common elements is caused by fire, water or other perils covered by the master property damage insurance, the Maryland Condominium Act requires a unit owner to pay up to the first $5,000 of repair expenses when the cause of the damage originates in that owner’s condominium unit.  While some condos choose a higher deductible, others can only obtain insurance with a deductible of $10,000 or more.  This leaves the condominium association responsible for repair expenses between $5,000 and the amount covered by insurance. Continue reading

Short Term Rentals Now OK in Montgomery County, Maryland

Short term daily and weekly rentals are now allowed in all residential areas of Montgomery County, Maryland, beginning July 1, 2018.

Previously, no residential rentals were permitted in Montgomery County for less than 30 days.  Faced with widespread illegal daily and weekly rentals, the County Council passed legislation in October, 2017 to allow these rentals where the property is the primary residence of the owner or owner-authorized resident of the rental property. However, condominiums, homeowner associations and housing cooperatives are still allowed to ban or restrict short term rentals Continue reading

2018 Maryland Legislative Update–New Laws Help Condos and HOAs

The hot topic during the 2018 Maryland legislative session was how Maryland will adapt to recent changes in federal income tax and health insurance laws.

Beyond the headlines, the Maryland General Assembly considered many bills which directly affect Maryland condominiums, homeowner associations, and housing cooperatives. Several new laws which help condos and HOAs were enacted. Continue reading

Maryland Condo and HOA Restrictions on Commercial Vehicle Parking

Maryland condominium and homeowners association covenants often prohibit parking “commercial vehicles” without specifying what constitutes a commercial vehicle.

Where a word or phrase used in the declaration of covenants for a condominium or homeowners association is not defined in the covenants or by statute, the board of directors has broad discretion to adopt rules which explain how the provisions of the covenants will be applied.

If there are no community rules which define what constitutes a “commercial vehicle”, it is likely that a court would apply the Maryland statutory definition of “commercial motor vehicle” used in connection with the requirements for obtaining a commercial driver’s license.  Under that definition, a commercial vehicle includes any vehicle with a gross weight rating of at least 26,001 pounds; a vehicle designed to transport 16 or more passengers; or any size vehicle used to transport hazardous materials.  Excluded from the statutory definition are fire and rescue vehicles with audible and visual signals. Continue reading

Condo and HOA Board Member Training Classes

On Sunday February 25, 2018, a training class for condominium, homeowner association, and co-op board members was presented at the Civic Building in Silver Spring, Maryland by attorney Tom Schild of Thomas Schild Law Group, LLC and Mark Fine, Chair of the Montgomery County Commission on Common Ownership Communities (CCOC).    

All common ownership community board members in Montgomery County, Maryland are required to take a 2-hour training class within 90 days after being elected or appointed to the board for the first time.  The CCOC’s Community Governance Fundamentals class provides board members with a basic understanding of the responsibilities and procedures for governing their community association. The training class topics include association governing documents and statutes, meeting and decision-making procedures, financial management, and owner rights and responsibilities.

Attorney Scott Silverman of Thomas Schild Law Group, LLC  presented a program on hot topics in Fair Housing in Washington, D.C. at Annual Conference of the Washington Metro Chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI) on Saturday March 10, 2018.  Topics include an overview of fair housing laws, board response to disputes between residents, and accommodations for service and emotional supports animals.

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, Frederick County, and Baltimore County; and in Baltimore City and Washington, D.C.