How Should Community Associations Handle Meetings and Common Area Use Amid Coronavirus Outbreak?
By Siegfried Rivera
The coronavirus pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty for community associations throughout Florida, especially concerning meetings and amenity use. Management professionals and board members are left struggling between protecting their residents by taking measures to limit the spread of the virus and continuing to conduct business as usual.
We share your concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak and the impact that it may have on our community. We urge that everyone continues to turn to the CDC and other qualified health professionals as their primary source of information and guidance. As we navigate these unchartered waters together, we ask that our clients stay calm and take rational courses of action to safeguard their communities, addressing situations properly while protecting the association from a potential claim.
As the CDC continues to encourage “social distancing,” many associations are left wondering whether or not they should be moving forward with duly scheduled meetings. Board members and property managers should evaluate the importance of the action items being discussed or voted upon before making any determinations on cancellations. Boards that are concerned about having in-person meetings should consider holding virtual meetings in conjunction with or in place of in-person gatherings. Social gatherings in clubhouses and recreational facilities are also a cause of concern. We discourage clients from limiting the number of guests residents can invite or trying to impose intrusive policies such as checking temperatures prior to allowing entry to the community. When in doubt, contact association counsel for a legal opinion.
Overly restricting the use of common elements is also something that should be carefully evaluated. Limiting the use of gyms, pools, meeting rooms and other amenities should be left to the discretion of the board of directors. At this time, the Florida Department of Health’s 24-hour hotline (1-866-779-6121) is impartial to the restriction of the use of community amenities. Associations that are considering leaving their facilities open should consider reaching out to their insurance providers to determine if there is any exclusion within their policy regarding bacterial and virus clean up. Memos should also be distributed to residents reminding them of sanitary procedures that should be followed after use and cautioning them about the potential risk from using public spaces and equipment.
For those boards which decide to close all amenities, note that there may be a legal risk involved in doing so. Though Governor De Santis declared a state of emergency, it is not reasonable to believe that the board can utilize the emergency powers provided to them in Chapters 718, 719 and 720 of the Florida Statutes. Those powers were enacted to assist in dealing with post-hurricane emergencies. Regardless of what the board of directors decides, we encourage that all decisions be addressed in a duly noticed board meeting.
Finally, we advise that associations take every step possible to keep high trafficked areas clean by placing hand sanitizers in lobbies and ensuring that public bathrooms, doorknobs, elevators and front desks, and recreational facilities be cleaned frequently. Management professionals that are feeling ill should be discouraged from reporting to work. Lastly, emergency contact information should be updated for all residents and staff, specifically for those who might be particularly at risk.
We understand that there is a lot of confusion and concern about what course of action to take. We encourage that all of our clients seek our legal opinion before making risky decisions, such as prohibiting social gatherings and closing down gyms. We all hope that the coronavirus situation moves on quickly without additional impact to public health, but we need to make sure we are making the right decisions for the safety of ourselves and our investments in the meantime.