There are rising confirmed cases of the Covid-19 virus in California. As a result, Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a State of Emergency. There is an increased risk for health care workers, individuals with respiratory and other underlying health issues, as well as the elderly.
Proactive homeowners’ boards and their management professionals are thinking about how this virus might impact their residential communities and what can be done to blunt the impact. Most are asking the following questions:
▪ Can we prohibit all guests from entering the community?
▪ Can we prohibit owners from undertaking renovation projects so we can prevent contractors and other workers from entering the property?
▪ Can we prevent residents we know have traveled to any high-risk areas (China, Italy, Spain, Iran) from returning to their units?
▪ Can we ask potential purchasers and potential renters if they have traveled to any high-risk areas?
▪ Does the State of Emergency mean the board now has emergency statutory powers?
▪ Should we stop holding meetings?
While it is admirable that some community association boards are gearing up for the inevitable spread of Covid-19, a balance must be struck in order to avoid panic.
Overly restrictive protocol that unnecessarily impacts your residents’ freedoms and quality of life are not likely to withstand a potential legal challenge and they also will create unnecessary strain in your community. It is important to remember that not every private residential community will be impacted in the same way.
In multifamily buildings where residents encounter each other frequently in the elevators, corridors, and other common areas, the need to address preventative measures is much more pressing than in an HOA with single family homes and no enclosed common areas.
Condominium, cooperative and HOA boards should be discussing the issue of Covid-19 with their residents. We believe that the following protocol may be helpful:
▪ Urge residents who have frequent guests to limit or reduce guest usage for the near future.
▪ If there is Airbnb and other short-term rental activity occurring in your community that violates your governing documents, work with association counsel to minimize that activity.
▪ Place hand sanitizer stations in high traffic areas in the community.
▪ Speak to association counsel before engaging in conversations with potential purchasers or potential renters about Covid-19 and their possible travel-related exposure.
▪ Speak to association counsel about the applicability of emergency powers now that Governor Newsom has declared a State of Emergency. Don’t assume that this means that your board can utilize the same emergency powers that are activated in response to damage caused by an event for which a state of emergency is declared.
▪ Make sure you have updated emergency contact information for all owners including any residents who may be particularly vulnerable.
▪ Let your residents know that if they are feeling ill or have any questions or concerns that they can contact the Covid-19 hotline that can be reached at 1-684-633-5871.
The board may also wish to pass a rule or update an existing rule to address the use of common areas such as the pool or clubhouse for private social events hosted by residents. That rule might limit the number of such events or the number of people that can attend.
In terms of suspending meetings, the board needs to continue operating and administering the association’s business and meetings are a large part of that. In most communities, board meetings are so poorly attended that they are not likely to become an issue in terms of virus transmission. However, if your board is concerned, you can explore the use of an in-house cable channel to broadcast the meetings live so people can watch in the privacy of their homes.
There is no doubt that the flames of anxiety are being stoked by the 24-hour news cycle coverage of Covid-19. Association residents will undoubtedly be looking to their elected boards and management professionals to set the right tone when dealing with this latest challenge.