Homeowners association board members and community managers will need to carefully consider how to prepare to reopen common areas and amenities as more states and localities begin to ease or lift stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Certain questions should be addressed by management before making any decisions: Can we open? Should we open? What will this look like?
“It’s expected most orders will begin to be lifted in phases, and if your association can meet certain criteria, you can start opening,” says Jim Slaughter, managing partner at Black, Slaughter & Black in Greensboro, N.C., and a fellow in CAI’s College of Community Association Lawyers (CCAL). It’s important to consider government guidelines at the local, state, and federal level before reopening amenities and common areas.
If an association can open, boards and community managers should determine which contracts to review and also look at their general liability insurance policy. “Most insurance companies put an exclusion for bodily injuries stemming from viruses, bacteria, and other continual diseases after the SARS epidemic in 2006,” says Eric Henning, AMS, PCAM, CEO of Community Management Associates in Atlanta, Ga.
If an association opens up and someone gets sick, is the association liable? “It’s recommended to check with your association attorney, but from a general liability insurance standpoint there is likely no coverage,” adds Henning.
Opening up will look different for different types of common areas and amenities, explains Henning. Cleaning these common areas will be extremely important during the reopening process. He recommends that associations have some sort of standard operating procedure to make sure the facility is cleaned after use or have a third party come in and professionally clean certain amenities.
During this time, communication is key. How should boards communicate new guidance on easing or lifting stay-at-home orders?
Kelly Zibell, AMS, PCAM, senior vice president at Associa Northern California-Stockton in Los Gatos, Calif., recommends letting residents know that the board is working on a plan that includes whether the association can and should open. Boards should consult with legal counsel and insurance providers on any plan they create before it’s implemented.
It’s important to update residents daily or weekly on the status of amenities as these orders are lifted. Adding a disclaimer that the information can or will change in the future also should be included, according to Zibell.