Several federal, state, and local authorities are now encouraging the phased reopening of public facilities. As a result, community associations are considering reopening previously closed or restricted amenities. The following guidelines and suggestions should be considered as this process begins. Note: it is recommended the Board review any contemplated relaxation of restrictions with legal counsel and other professionals prior to implementation. Download a PDF of this document HERE.
Many of the general principles and guidelines for dealing with the current COVID-19 crisis were discussed in the Sentry Management document COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions for Board Members (Click here COVID-19 FAQ) nonetheless, they bear repeating:
It is important to understand that every community will need to develop its own plan based on several factors such as what regulations are in place and can the plan be implemented from an expense and available personnel perspective. The plan should reflect the phases that could occur, such as capacity restrictions that loosen over time. Other questions to consider that may impact the actions taken:
The starting point for all plans needs to begin with an understanding of the governing documents of the association and the regulations that apply, whether from the state or local municipalities. These regulations have been a moving target and need to be closely monitored with the help of legal counsel. Not taking the appropriate actions could be the basis for liability and lawsuits. It is recommended to start with those that are the most restrictive as this will provide maximum protection to all parties. Also, consider a phased approach when developing the plan. Remember, just because states are reopening, does not mean the association is required to reopen as well. A well thought out transition will be important to the success of the reopening process.
Communicate to all residents that “we are in this together” and that as the restrictions are eased, it will take the cooperation of all residents to make it successful.
It is becoming more evident that there will be a “new normal” as emergence from this pandemic occurs. For example, it is likely that social distancing, the accessibility and use of hand sanitizers, and increased cleaning and sanitizing will be part of standard operating procedures in the future. Each amenity may be treated differently, depending on the layout of the facility and the ability to meet the various guidelines.
Cleaning and sanitization will apply to almost all indoor and outdoor amenities; however, the treatment of each may vary slightly. As a result, considerations need to be given to the following questions:
Some suggestions to put into the plan:
Swimming Pool Area
It is likely that this is the amenity that is receiving the greatest pressure to open, particularly in Florida and Arizona. There are many factors to consider such as the size of the pool, population of the association, and the resident demographics. Suggestions and points of consideration include the following:
Gym areas have many similar requirements and, in many cases, maybe more restrictive because it is indoor. Social distancing is required as well as the necessity of posting rules and warnings. Other suggestions to consider:
Clubhouse or other indoor facilities:
Indoor facilities carry more inherent risk and proper guidelines and care need to be exercised.
Tennis Courts, Pickleball Courts, Bocce Courts, Shuffleboard Courts and other Sports Courts:
Outdoor facilities carry less risk; however, similar guidelines need to be followed:
Spa/Jacuzzi/Sauna or Steam Rooms (multi-person):
It is recommended that these facilities remain closed until further guidance is provided by local authorities. If it is determined to open these amenities, consider the following:
Restaurant/Bar/Food and Beverage Areas
Generally, it is suggested to follow the guidelines established by local authorities, for example: limit the occupancy to a certain percentage, proper distance between tables, utilization of masks, and appropriate cleaning after use.
Should the Board allow homeowners to sign a waiver, releasing liability, in order to utilize amenities?
In speaking with insurance agents who specialize in association policies – most have indicated that waivers of this type are typically not advised. This is especially true in the case of COVID-19, which is infectious and can be spread to individuals who were not party to the waiver. It is imperative for Boards taking this path to seek counsel with their insurance agent and legal counsel, and any such waiver should be written by an association attorney.
Should the Association post signs that establish ‘use at your own risk’ or ‘This area not 100% COVID-19 free,’ including recommendations for handwashing, etc.?
The general answer to this is no. While there may be a small benefit in creating expectations for facility users and adding to the list of defenses in court, this is a dual-edged sword. This type of signage may inadvertently assert that the association is monitoring the behaviors of facility users. This leaves the association extra vulnerable. Again, legal counsel is imperative.
Can volunteers be used for cleaning? What about monitoring for compliance?
It is not advisable to allow volunteers to clean or monitor the facilities. The risk is high and it is likely that insurance coverage would not be effective in the event of any issue. Contact your legal counsel and insurance professional if this action is being considered.
What enforcement means should the association undertake?
If violations of the regulations put into place occur, it is recommended that action be taken as the activity may be in violation of local law, and equally or more important, these actions may be putting residents at risk. If violations continue, the residents need to understand that this could result in the amenity(ies) being closed again.
How do we obtain the required hand sanitizers and other needed equipment and supplies?
Contact your Sentry Management Community Manager for the options available.
What if the Association guidelines are more restrictive than the municipality?
Regardless of the decisions made by the board, criticism will be forthcoming. As noted earlier, the responsibility of the board should not be confused with the government regulations and guidelines being put forth. It is recommended that the board err on the side of caution and follow their best business judgment.
Memorial Day is right around the corner and many residents want to use the grills and patio areas. What guidelines and protocols should we establish?
The social distancing guidelines need to be followed, as well as established protocols for cleaning and maintenance. Owners need to properly clean after use. The association may want to consider staffing a maintenance or janitorial person to clean the equipment area after each use during the holiday weekend. In all cases, common sense should rule.
How should the association prepare for anything like this in the future? Should the governing documents be reviewed and appropriate revisions made?
It is advisable to meet with legal counsel and consider appropriate revisions or additions, such as guest restrictions or what emergency powers could be utilized by the board.
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