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Coronavirus Update: Practical Tips for Community Associations

July 15, 2020

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 started 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 co-operatives 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 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 might 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 recommendations of the federal, state and local governments to protect against infection 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 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.   Common Recreational Amenities.

To limit transmission of the coronavirus, many Board have closed common recreational amenities such as gyms, meeting rooms, play equipment, swimming pools and clubhouses. Now the question  is whether such facilities should re-open.  With pool season underway, state and local health officials have enacted restrictions and procedures for the opening and use of public and private pools.  Any community association pools and other recreation amenities which are opened should, at a minimum, follow state and local standards and guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control (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 could 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 Areas.

Rergarding maintenance of association property, condo, co-op and HOA Boards should  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, independent cleaning contractors, and the CDC website as to the current industry standard and practice and follow such standards.

We 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 be asked to 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,  physically distancing themselves from others, and wearing a face mask.

    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  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 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 instructed 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 or video call,   homeowners could attend 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 in Maryland and Washington, D.C., we are available by phone (301-251-1414) or e-mail (law@schildlaw.com) to 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! 




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