Coronavirus (Covid-19) and Condos: Best Practices – A Brief Management Guide

As a CAM navigating this Coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis, you should become an expert at getting informed from the appropriate authorities and applying that information to community association management.

By Javier Zayas-Bazan, Attorney at Law (javier@zayasbazanlaw.com)

Protect and Promote the Health, Safety and Welfare of the Community

Everything that a CAM does these days will be largely based on protecting and promoting the health, safety and welfare of the community’s residents, employees and guests. All CAMs, whether they are independent in-house managers or employed by a management company, must be mindful of protecting the health safety and welfare of the community. To do so, a CAM must be informed.

Be Informed About Government Guidelines and Orders

Typically, the audience of this site is from Florida. However, the article will be more general because it may be useful generally outside of Florida. There are various sources of information regarding maintaining a safe environment for the community during the Covid-19 epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, Department of Homeland CISA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and websites for state departments of health (See Florida Department of Health website here), county health departments, and municipal health departments are some useful sources to name a few. Local news outlets such as stations and newspapers are also quite informative.

Be mindful not to become overwhelmed by too much information. Information overload is a real problem. The goal is to manage the community. You do not have to become an epidemiologist. Focus on the basic guidelines for managing practical problems such as how to maintain social distancing in condominium facilities that entail elevators, mail rooms, amenity areas, etc, or as another example how to handle visitors and deliveries.

As a CAM navigating this Coronavirus (Covid-19 crisis), you should become an expert at getting informed from the appropriate authorities and applying that information to community association management.

In addition to being proactively informed about the emergency management guidelines, a CAM must also be on notice regarding local, state, and federal orders and mandates in order to effectively communicate and adhere to the mandates.

Social Distancing within Condominiums

The CDC explains social distancing as keeping at least 6 feet apart. So how does management encourage social distancing in condominiums with elevator landings and mail rooms? Here are a few ways.

Elevators: Limit Entry Capacity

Most elevators will not have six feet of distance within them. Therefore, to comply with social distancing guidelines, a regulation should be implemented where entry into each elevator cabin is limited to families (that are already together) or one person. Bear in mind, the Association will be hard pressed to actually force people to comply. However, generally, people are keenly interested in NOT getting sick and will comply. Notice must be conspicuously posted of such regulations at the elevator landings and as needed to convey the message.

Social Distancing Place Markers

A regulation limiting the amount of people entering each elevator cabin at once can create bottlenecks of people at the elevator landings. Such bottlenecks can defeat the purpose of elevator capacity regulations by creating social distancing challenges in front of the elevators. While most people will maintain their social distance, a few might not. Social distancing floor place markers can help to avoid unnecessary confrontations and communications between people who observe social distancing and those who do not. Retailers are using these to positive effect for cashier lines.

Mitigate The Risk of Potential Elevator Breakdowns

The last problem condos need is people having to chose between waiting too long for elevators, walking up several flights of stairs, or cramming into an elevator because one or more elevators are not working. Elevator capacity regulations can be useful to enforce social distancing until an elevator breaks down.

CAMs should be proactive in ensuring that their elevator maintenance company has routine components in stock in case of a break down in order to avoid critical component backlogs and delays. Certain elevator components can take weeks and even months to obtain. Under ordinary circumstances, such delays would be a problem. With Covid-19 and elevator capacity challenges, it can become a major crisis.

When it comes to elevators, malfunctions are generally caused by the same four or five components that cause breakdowns. Knowing which components are prone to malfunction is as easy as seeing reviewing recent elevator maintenance logs and reports. Do not wait for the elevator breakdown to happen to look for the replacement component. Get assurances from the elevator maintenance provider. It may even be a good idea to purchase a back up component, if not too costly, to avoid a long delay in getting a broken-down elevator up and running.

Cleaning and Sanitizing the Common Areas

The CDC has specific guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting. According to the CDC guidelines, there should be special focus on cleaning commonly touched surfaces. In condominiums these common area surfaces include, but are certainly not limited to: elevator buttons, door handles, door push bars, door glass, sink faucets, toilet flush handles, tables, chairs, and sofas.

Hand Sanitizing Dispensers

A few CAMs had the foresight of ordering hand sanitizing dispensers early on. I know of one CAM who deployed forty-five commercial-grade dispensers throughout the managed property. The deployment allowed residents to sanitize their hands and gloves in order to optimize good hygiene. While it may be difficult these days to secure such dispensers, an effort should be made to provide hand sanitizing dispensers, at minimum, to personnel. CAMs can be creative in searching for hand sanitizer. Even local breweries and distilleries have been known to provide.

Close Social Gathering Spaces and Restrict Access to Other Amenities

As a best practice, management should remove all furniture (including love seats, sofas, and chairs) from the common areas. With social distancing guidelines in place, there is no reason to invite people to sit down and incur the operating protocol of cleaning furniture when it should not be getting used to begin with.

If the condominium association has restricted access to the common areas for visitors and contractors (See 718.1265(g)), it may also reasonably restrict access to common area bathrooms to employees only. This restriction avoids the problem of constantly sanitizing those areas due to high traffic.

Common area amenity spaces used for social gatherings should not be open, because it conflicts with social distancing guidelines and adds an additional cleaning regiment to the janitorial process. Therefore, playgrounds, playrooms, party rooms, meeting rooms, fitness centers, swimming pools, swim spas, saunas, steam rooms, health spas, and the like should not be open. Most owners will applaud such measures. Some opportunistic owners might want to withhold their full maintenance assessment payment due to these closures. Should this happen, consult legal counsel to resolve the matter.

Focused Cleaning Processes

Janitorial staff should be focused on cleaning and disinfecting high traffic areas and commonly touched surfaces. The above-referenced measures will aid in concentrating the attention of cleaning staff to such critical processes. CAMs should ensure that cleaning and disinfecting is being handled in a systematic manner that incorporates timing intervals to cleaning processes and should document such processes to archive operational compliance. At minimum, measures should be placed to audit the cleaning regiment by way of physical or video surveillance (security personnel can aid in the auditory process). CAMs should not simply trust in the process but verify its integrity.

The Cleaning Supply Chain and Inventory Security

During these tough times, the line between stockpiling and hoarding can become blurred. Having necessary cleaning supplies such as soap, rags, mops, and cleaning agents can become a life safety issue during an epidemic. Therefore, CAMs should be proactive in ensuring access to these cleaning supplies. As always, per OSHA standards Safety Data Sheets should be utilized to ensure the proper and safe application of all cleaning agents.

However, it is absolutely critical to ensure that these supplies are properly secured, because misappropriation and embezzlement of these critical supplies is a real risk. Steps should be taken by janitorial staff to safeguard against the embezzlement of cleaning supplies. With prices increasing and scarcity prevailing, communities cannot afford to see cleaning supplies disappear through the cracks.

Protecting Essential Personnel

Most stay at home orders allow those performing “essential services” to continue working. For our purposes, essential services are defined by the Department of Homeland Security’s CISA as workers responsible for handling “property management and maintenance” and those “providing disinfection services” including “janitorial/cleaning personnel” and “security staff to maintain building access control and physical security measures.

Therefore, management, maintenance, janitorial, and security personnel are essential services. CAMs must prioritize the safety of these essential workers because they are at the front line of maintaining the continuity of community operation, health, safety, and welfare. Providing gloves, masks, and other essential safety equipment is fundamental to their safety. CAMs should follow the same proactive approach to obtaining such equipment and securing it as with the cleaning products discussed earlier in this article. This safety equipment is becoming increasingly expensive and scarce and is therefore vulnerable to misappropriation and embezzlement.

While working, the same guidelines that apply to everyone regarding social distancing and good hygiene obviously apply to personnel. Efforts must be undertaken to ensure that personnel are strictly adhering to such guidelines.

According to OSHA, there must be guidelines regarding employees reporting being sick and ensuring that they are duly isolated. Personnel with whom a suspected or confirmed Covid-19 positive worker may have come into contact with should be promptly isolated as well. Privacy, notice, and leave concerns are legal matters that are outside the scope of this article. However, these concerns are of critical importance and must be consulted with legal counsel.

Security Matters and Deliveries

718.1265(g) permits Association to restrict access to common areas during a state of emergency if such restrictions are based on the emergency management directives and/or professional advice. This means that restricting access to the common areas for contractors, movers, and visitors is permitted to protect the health safety, and welfare of the community.

Installing physical barriers for security personnel who may have to deal in relatively close proximity to walk-in and drive-in is advisable. All efforts should be undertaken to avoid violating social distancing guidelines.

How to Accommodate Package Deliveries

Deliveries are becoming increasingly popular among those opting to stay at home. Groceries are being delivered along with all sorts of other goods. Restricting community access to deliveries can have the counterproductive effect of forcing residents to venture out and around. A good approach for some communities is to re-purpose resources to handle the receipt of deliveries.

For example, security personnel that are less busy because of less traffic and closed amenities can receive and deliver food packages to the doors. This re-purposing of security personnel limits the access of delivery people into the property. Also, for communities without package receipt processes and areas, amenity areas such as party rooms can be re-purposed and organized into package drop-off and pick-up rooms.

If properly organized, Fed-Ex, UPS, and Amazon delivery people will place packages in their appropriate slots. If implemented, special care should be taken by CAMs to post notices to residents to be mindful and observant of social distancing requirements when retrieving their packages.

Practicing Good Communications

Community Communications

Providing the community with information regarding the steps management is taking to safeguard their health, safety and welfare is reassuring during this difficult time. It is particularly important when routine aspects of community living are abruptly and indefinitely interrupted. Good communal communications has the added benefit of enhancing overall compliance with safety guidelines including that of each resident. Media such as digital bulletin boards, website and blog postings, mass emails (through services such as Mailchimp) are useful ways to immediately connect with the community.

Personnel Communications

Importantly, there must be regular and methodical communication with personnel. As the circumstances rapidly change, personnel must be timely informed in order to optimize their performance and ensure their safety. Personnel should clearly understand what is expected of them onsite and even out of work; for example, if they feel sick, they should know not to report to work. If they know they were in contact with a person who was diagnosed with Covid-19, they should know to self-isolate.

Board and Professional Communications

Last but not least, CAMs need to have very good communications with their Boards and legal counsel. Encourage boards to ask questions and share information. If you work for a management company, this is where a regional or district manager can be in a unique position to provide useful (cross-community based) guidance. Do not hesitate to reach out to legal counsel for guidance. The line between a management and legal issue can be hard to distinguish. It is far better to air on the side of caution and contact legal counsel or seek permission from the board to do so rather than proceed with doubts.

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