As most Americans are currently quarantined in their houses, across the country and across Florida businesses have largely transferred their duty of care to the Community Associations where their employees live.
This means that while many parts of the economy come to a standstill, America’s Homeowner Associations and Condominium Associations are busier than ever.
Amidst ever-changing public health guidelines and orders to shelter in place, HOAs and Condo Associations have the difficult task of communicating information and taking action to safeguard the wellbeing of their residents. What’s more, Homeowner Associations and Condominium Associations are heavily regulated and must make sure that all communication and steps taken are in compliance with association law.
If you sit on an association board or work in an association in Florida, here are a few of the most important tasks you may find yourself undertaking in these uncertain times.
Homeowner Associations and Condominium Associations are important sources of community information to residents. Depending on the demographics of your community, communication might take the form of printed posters and bulletin boards, email messages, text messages or a frequently-visited website.
Regardless of whether you are online or printed, it is important to include in your communication information from the Center for Disease Control and local health authorities. For example, this could include a dedicated website page with the latest COVID-19 information.
In the place of resident and board meetings consider phone or online video conferencing. Gathering in person may otherwise have been necessary in order to fulfill your association’s rules and legal requirements. Now, due to social distancing, take these meetings virtual or otherwise consider postponing them altogether. During these meetings be sure to reach an agreement on a reassuring and single message for your residents. In the midst of a crisis, it’s best to avoid mixed signals.
Consult with your legal counsel to discuss how meetings and elections can occur or be postponed, legally under Florida law, under a state-wide quarantine.
The health and safety of residents is a top priority of Homeowner Associations and Condominium Associations. Therefore the possibility of outsiders to the community potentially introducing the coronavirus is a viable threat that you should take seriously. At the same time, it is important not to make rules you can enforce such as stopping all visitors from outside of the community (most HOA and Condo Association guidelines do not include limits on who can visit as a guest). It is also wise to avoid Fair Housing Act violations such as limiting people of a certain age from visiting your building or community. While well-meaning, any heavy-handed approach to access control could backfire legally.
Instead, encourage residents to use their best judgment, by putting the onus on them. Discourage inviting guests and contractors at this time and lead by suspending all but the most essential services performed by outside contractors.
“Florida’s businesses have largely transferred their duty of care to the Community Associations where their employees live.”
At the beginning of the outbreak, many communities kept amenities open and just wiped them down and paid closer attention to sanitation. In more recent weeks, HOAs and Condo Associations are keeping areas where grouping occurs off-limits. This shift in best practice is compliant with Florida’s governor’s order to stay at home in order to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.
Pools, gyms and other areas where people congregate should be closed or limited to single access with thorough sanitation in between visitors. However, make sure that notice is given along with updates as the local situation changes.
Be mindful of reducing fee assessments as during these times as association costs may not decrease. Make sure that the association is protected financially as a first priority. Be sure, for example, to still meet lien deadlines so that the association is protected financially should a sale be attempted. That said, it is a good business practice to make exceptions to accommodate residents who are undoubtedly under financial strain right now. Be willing to waive late fees and interest. Perhaps delay any special assessments or increases at this time. Being flexible shows you are aware of the community’s financial hardship in these difficult times.
Handle Coronavirus Cases Carefully
What should your association do if instances of the COVID-19 occur in your community? HIPAA Regulations do not apply to Homeowner Associations and Condominium Associations, however, associations should follow best practices and ensure that any medical information is kept private. That said, be sure to:
- Encourage all members to indicate their COVID-19 status, perhaps through a questionnaire.
- Ask those testing positive if they are willing to be identified to the community.
- Ask those testing positive if they will self-quarantine.
As a means of community stewardship, consider the following actions should COVID-19 be known to be in the community:
- Be willing to support those in self-quarantine with services that allow to them to receive mail, walk their dog and complete other essential tasks.
- Communicate to the community that there is a positive COVID-19 case. The potential repercussion to the association knowing and not telling the community is greater than the initial shock to residents.
- Alert the local health authorities of the incident and to whether any residents are being reckless or failing to cooperate. Be sure not to attempt to enforce stay-at-home laws or any other law or ordinance on your own. Law enforcement is strictly the job of the police.
Duty versus Legal Requirement
In these unprecedented times, let’s be mindful that we all need to extend a hand to our neighbors and any others in need. Whether or not there is legal duty care, in many cases help should be given when it is safe and reasonable to do so. However, making difficult decisions in uncertain circumstances can be risky. This is especially true in the heavily regulated area of Homeowner Associations and Condo Association Law. Therefore our advice is, when in doubt, get the opinion of an experienced real estate lawyer with a background in Association and Community Law. At South Florida Law, PLLC we remain fully accessible during the quarantine. Are you a Homeowners Association or Condominium Association managing a community in the midst of the Coronavirus quarantine? Then call South Florida Law today on (954) 900-8885 or click here to connect via our contact form.