As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the nation, New York City co-ops and condominiums are grappling with difficult questions. Social distancing – the frontline strategy that’s so essential for mitigating the spread – is much more complicated in New York City than, even suburban Homeowner Associations where units may be spread out over a larger property. Millions of residents are cooped up in cramped quarters, living out this new, surreal reality. They’re wondering how to effectively work remotely, how to keep their kids entertained and how to get groceries and toilet paper without becoming the next positive case.
Steps to consider
For co-op and condominium boards, protecting the health of residents and staff is a top priority. Within the framework of their governing documents, boards typically have wide latitude to impose “house rules” for safety and security purposes. Many have already closed building fitness centers, gyms (our best current information is that the Governor’s executive order shutting gyms applies not only to commercial gyms but also to gyms within coops and condominiums operated for residents), social gathering areas and other amenities that pose a risk of transmission. Boards and management are wise to conduct their operations such as board meetings electronically and to reschedule annual meetings to a time when it will again be safe for everyone to attend. For small coops and condominiums, holding conference telephone annual meetings is a possibility.
Here are some additional strategies to consider:
- Limit entry: Many residential buildings are screening visitors – including delivery personnel – for symptoms. Some are shutting their doors to visitors completely. Consider requiring that deliveries be left in the lobby or at the front door to reduce the number of non-residents tromping through elevators and hallways. Ask residents to avoid in-person social visits. Many buildings are also prohibiting large deliveries (e.g. appliances/furniture).
- Ensure social distancing: Post signs limiting the number of people allowed in confined shared spaces (such as lobbies and elevators). In spaces where groups are likely to congregate (such as waiting for the elevator or the mailboxes), mark spaces on the floor to ensure at least six feet of distance between each person.
- Clean and sanitize: Now is the time to ramp up sanitizing efforts (if you haven’t already). Designate healthy staff or volunteers to constantly sanitize public surfaces such as elevator buttons, door handles, mail boxes, laundry rooms and equipment and hand railings.
- Screen workers: When staff members arrive to start a shift, require a brief health screening, which should include taking their temperature and asking about relevant exposure history. Those with symptoms or likely exposure should stay home.
- Brace for staffing shortages: When the full force of the pandemic hits, healthy workers will be in short supply. Consider lining up temp workers or even enlisting volunteer residents to cover essential tasks (so long as they’re healthy).
- Enforce quiet hours: With buildings packed to the gills, televisions blaring, children stomping overhead and dogs barking, noise complaints are virtually unavoidable. Establish and enforce reasonable nighttime quiet hours. Encourage residents to use headphones, close doors and generally be considerate of their neighbors. Remind everyone that their neighbors may be working from home during the day and that they should try to minimize daytime noise as much as possible. On the flip side of the coin, your neighbor who normally is able to send their child to school is having to educate and entertain them at home and there will inevitably be more noise which will need to be tolerated.
- Postpone nonessential maintenance and repairs: Protect staff and residents by limiting repairs and maintenance, especially those involving habited units. Given the number of people who are working from home, boards may want to limit or eliminate any alterations during this period to minimize noise and inconvenience to those individuals who now find themselves stuck at home as well as to limit non-residents from coming to the building. Provide staff members with gloves, face masks and sanitizer, and screen residents for symptoms before allowing staff members to enter.
- Track confirmed cases: Residents who test positive should maintain proper quarantine from staff and other residents. To that end, keep track of any confirmed cases while also respecting their confidentiality. If your building has a confirmed case, we recommend that you notify the residents of the floor on which the confirmed case is located (without identifying the confirmed case), so that immediate neighbors can consult with their own medical providers.
Of course, this is a rapidly evolving situation, and things may look much different in a week or month. Stay in close contact (from a physical distance) with management and legal counsel to ensure a proactive, unified response during these uncertain times.