COVID-19 and homeowner associations
I am frequently asked these days what a condominium or common interest community association should be doing in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. Here are some tips, but certainly not a fully comprehensive approach.
Boards should encourage residents to remain rational, yet appropriately vigilant, about the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19 disease. The COVID-19 situation is very fluid and, as I write this, the World Health Organization declared the disease a "global pandemic." Answers to issues regarding avoidance and preparedness need to be provided by the medical community.
At this time, I have not seen guidance specifically tailored to multiunit buildings.
Board members should stay up-to-date on information concerning COVID-19 in order to implement proactive measures designed to mitigate the potential for the spread of the virus. Associations should follow guidances from the Centers for Disease Control and county health departments with respect to avoidance and preparedness to address the outbreak.
The CDC's website is a good resource for information on COVID-19. It is updated as developments unfold, so users can track the spread of disease, understand the risks and stay current about expert-recommended practices to keep themselves and their communities safe. The following is a the web address to the Centers for Disease Control's webpage related to the coronavirus: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.
The CDC notes that there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. As the CDC suggests, in obvious fashion, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. The virus is thought to spread mainly through person-to-person contact, between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet), and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. So, the practice of "social distancing" has evolved.
Amid concerns about transmitting COVID-19, along with common sense protocols, such as encouraging residents to wash their hands frequently, use hand sanitizer and to avoid close contact with people who are sick, there are some steps the board of an association can take to reduce the risks of transmission of the virus at the association.
It's prudent for the association to try to keep frequently touched surfaces, including door handles/knobs, elevator buttons, light switches, countertops, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, sinks, washers and dryers and physical fitness equipment, clean and disinfected.
The board could consider temporarily reducing association gatherings that bring groups of residents into proximity with one another. Some associations are postponing or canceling nonessential association gatherings, and some are postponing upcoming annual meetings.
Further, the frequency of board meetings (especially if a board meets monthly or more frequently than quarterly) can be reduced. Given the characterization of COVID-19 as a pandemic, and the growing public policy of "social distancing," the board may be able to hold its meetings via conference calls/video, or other electronic methods of communication, which allow board members to conduct association business while simultaneously allowing owners to listen/observe without gathering as a group.
Where permitted, owners can be encouraged to vote in board member elections by proxies issued to a single person, or to vote by mail in ballot or electronically if the association has adopted appropriate rules; thereby reducing the number of people physically in proximity with one another at an annual meeting of the owners.
Owners should be strongly encouraged to advise the association if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19. The association can certainly make inquiries if that owner has notified the county health department or CDC and otherwise followed protocols established by these authorities.
Given the increased concern over COVID-19, in the event the board learns a resident at the association has contracted COVID-19, it would certainly be prudent to advise other residents of this, and to encourage them to contact their own medical provider and to follow their medical provider's advice, as warranted.
In time, hopefully, "this too shall pass."
• David M. Bendoff is an attorney with Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit in the Chicago suburbs. Send questions for the column to him at CondoTalk@ksnlaw.com. The firm provides legal service to condominium, townhouse, homeowner associations and housing cooperatives. This column is not a substitute for consultation with legal counsel.