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Covid-19 and Your Residential Community

There are now three confirmed cases of the Covid-19 virus in Florida: one in Manatee County and two in Hillsborough County. By the time you read this, there may be even more. As a result, Governor DeSantis 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.

Already, proactive 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. We’ve received the following inquiries from several of our CALL members:

  • 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, South Korea, Iran and Italy) 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 already 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.

It is not too soon for condominium, cooperative and HOA boards to be discussing the issue of Covid-19 with their residents. We’ve already suggested to our CALL Members statewide 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 curb 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 DeSantis has declared a State of Emergency in Florida. 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 Florida Department of Health’s 24-hour hotline that can be reached at ‪1-866-779-6121.

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 all types of technology 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.

Donna DiMaggio Berger

Donna DiMaggio Berger

Contact: dberger@beckerlawyers.com

Donna DiMaggio Berger is a member of the College of Community Association Lawyers (CCAL), a prestigious national organization that acknowledges community association attorneys who have distinguished themselves through contributions to the evolution or practice of community association law and who have committed themselves to high standards of professional and ethical conduct in the practice of community association law. Ms. Berger is also one of only 129 attorneys statewide who is a Board Certified Specialist in Condominium and Planned Development Law.