How Community Associations Should Respond to Coronavirus

As COVID-19 disrupts our daily lives, and the confusion and anxiety ensue, we at Lerch, Early & Brewer have been fielding questions about how community associations should and need to respond to the ever-evolving outbreak of COVID-19. Here is our general advice at this time:

Question: Should the community association keep the common areas/element facilities open and accessible in light of the coronavirus?

Answer: The Board should make the decision that is in the best interest of its community based on recommendations from qualified medical and/or governmental institutions, the demographics in it community, and the risk factors outlined by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). A community with residents older than 60 should consider taking a more conservative approach.

That said, given that much about the virus and its impact remains unknown at this time and being ahead of the curve appears to be the most prudent course, we recommend that community facilities, such as gyms, playrooms, clubrooms, and swimming pools be closed for the time being.

Should the Board decide to keep common areas/elements facilities open, we recommend:

  • Contacting janitorial and cleaning contractors about extra products and services that may be available to increase cleaning frequency and ensure that products comply with CDC recommendations. Stocking necessary supplies.
  • Supplying disinfectant wipes.
  • Posting notices instructing individuals to wipe down any high-touch surfaces (light switches, control buttons, door handles, dispensers, railings, etc.) and to stay home if they feel sick.
  • Removing all furniture from indoor pool areas.
  • For gyms, disinfected wipes should be supplied in each area for use; b) a notice should be conspicuously posted reminding individuals to wipe down ANY AND ALL surfaces that may be touched by them (e.g., weights, treadmills, benches, and bicycles), before and after use; and c) the notice should also remind individuals to wipe down all television remote controls before and after touching them.

Question: What should the Association do if a resident, guest, contractors or another individual who has visited the community has contracted the virus?

Answer: Take the following steps:

  • Immediately notify the local health department and contact CDC for guidance regarding appropriate measures to take.
  • Encourage the infected individual(s) to follow governmental advice and orders regarding self-quarantining and otherwise.
  • Promptly alert members, residents, guests, contractors and others who may visit the community in writing that there has been a confirmed case in the community, without revealing information identifying those who have been infected on account of privacy considerations. Assure the community that the proper authorities have been notified and that the infected individual(s) has been encouraged to follow governmental advice and orders.

Question: Should the Association convey messages to the community relating to the coronavirus?

Answer: Yes and no. Residents and owners will be looking to their community association to take protective action, so we recommend that the Association proactively disseminate messages about what it is doing to address the virus. However, the Board and management should not present themselves as medical authorities or provide specific guidance on the illness to residents. Instead, the Association may direct residents to authoritative sources such as the CDC.

Here are a few reference links that the Association may want to share with its community:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
  • World Health Organization (WHO) – Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19)
  • Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) – COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Outbreak Resources

The Association may also want to share the following common sense CDC recommendations that help prevent potentially communicable illnesses such as COVID-19:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. (If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.)
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a face mask:
    • CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
    • Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others.

Question: Should the Association hold meetings and events in light of the coronavirus?

Answer: Again, given that much about the virus and its impact remains unknown, we recommend the most conservative approach. To decide among available options for reformatting, postponing and/or cancelling Board meetings and meetings of the membership (such as the annual meeting), we recommend that the Association consult with its attorney to discuss options.

For Board meetings, in Maryland, for example, Board members may generally participate in meetings by telephone. To hold an open Board meeting, the Owners should be permitted to call-in and supplied with a call-in number. In order to provide Owners the opportunity to make comments and to facilitate order at the Board meeting, we recommend encouraging Owners to email the Board or the managing agent in advance of the meeting to be placed on the comment list or to provide their questions or comments. If Board meetings are cancelled, and an issue arises requiring prompt attention, some statutes permit Boards to conduct business over email so long as there is unanimous consent.

Question: Should we limit resident interaction with on-site staff?

Answer: We recommend encouraging all residents to communicate with the on-site staff by email and phone.

Moving forward, we will provide updated guidance based on the evolving situation. Lerch, Early & Brewer has taken steps to ensure that its attorneys and paralegals can work remotely if needed. We are in this with you. If you need us, we are here. We hope everyone stays safe and healthy.

If you have any further questions, please contact Ruth Katz at 301-657-0188 or [email protected] or Jeremy Tucker at 301-657-0157 or [email protected].