COVID-19 is everywhere around us. It has changed our daily lives in so many unimaginable ways. Therefore, we should not be surprised that it affects the general day to day operations of an association. Here is how our lives within community associations are changing.
Stay at Home Order
This afternoon Governor Pritzker announced he will be extending his Executive order of March 20, 2020. The order will remain in effect through April 30, 2020. This means that all individuals currently living within the State of Illinois must stay at home or at their place of residence, except as allowed by the Executive Order. Though Owners are required to stay at home and to exercise social distancing, this is not for the Board of Directors or management to enforce. As stated in Governor Pritzker’s Order, the Executive Order may be enforced by State and local law enforcement. Boards should encourage all Owners to comply with the terms of the Executive Order.
Confirmed Diagnoses in Associations
As the number of COVID-19 cases throughout the state increases (there are at least 5,994) confirmed cases as of the time of this writing), more and more cases are being confirmed within associations. When this happens, boards and management should work to implement enhanced safety measures, while preserving the confidentiality of the diagnosed individual as much as possible. Depending on staffing resources and building set-up, such enhanced safety measures might include having items delivered to/picked up from outside the individual’s unit to avoid unnecessary contact with common elements and others, and extra cleaning and sanitation. Other residents should also be notified that a confirmed case has been identified within the building (without disclosing the identity of the subject resident, unless he or she has agreed in writing to that disclosure), so that they can take whatever additional safety measures they deem advisable. In all cases, recommendations of physicians, and local and federal health departments must be followed by the resident, and by the association.
The door staff, maintenance employees, and management personnel come into contact with more people, and more areas of the building, than any other person at the property. In that regard, employees are at particularly high risk of being exposed, and of exposing others if they are sick. If any employee has any symptoms whatsoever, that employee must immediately stop all tasks and leave association property. As with confirmed or suspected resident cases discussed above, residents should be notified (without the identity of the employee being disclosed), and immediate cleaning and sanitation of all areas that may have been contacted should be performed. If any employee is uncomfortable about continuing their job functions due to risk of infection, they cannot be compelled to continue. Any employee who is absent from work due to their own illness, the illness of a family member, or with a child whose school or daycare is closed, must be able to use all time off available to them under their employment arrangement. Thereafter, they may be entitled to unemployment, paid sick leave, or paid family leave benefits. In all cases, employment contracts and union directives, if applicable, must be followed.
Although construction is considered an essential function under the stay-at-home executive order, sense must be used in determining whether construction projects continue. Inside projects, where contractors come into contact with residents and inside areas of the building, should be suspended unless they are necessary to bring essential services or utilities to a unit or to the association building. Outdoor projects or those necessary to restore or maintain essential utilities (water, electricity, et cetera) should be continued as safely as possible, with social distancing and personal protection measures followed by contractors. If a project is not essential and the association decides to suspend it, the contract should be carefully reviewed to determine whether it contains provisions allowing either party to delay or avoid obligations due to circumstances outside of the parties’ control, such as a disease epidemic. Likewise, any contracts for new projects that are being contemplated should include provisions to protect the association if work must be further delayed.
As employees throughout the state are being laid off or put on leave due to closure of businesses, associations will no doubt be faced with unpaid assessment and collection issues. Boards can consider revising their normal collection procedures, foregoing the assessment of non-common expense amounts (interest, penalties, fines, et cetera), and reconsidering the timing and amount of unpassed but anticipated special assessments.
Common Sense and Common Courtesy
Everyone who lives in a condominium, townhome, or homeowner association should keep in mind that many people are spending their days in their homes (whether they want to or not), and many are on edge given the uncertainty of the current situation. In such cases, common sense and common courtesy are so important! All residents should be reminded to avoid engaging in activities that may disturb neighbors. Boards should not be drawn into neighbor-to-neighbor disputes, as they have more urgent responsibilities as discussed above. All residents should be reminded to do what they should and what is courteous, even if to do otherwise might not be strictly prohibited.
Of course, basic safety measures such as social-distancing, frequent hand-washing, staying home when you feel sick, and the other things we have been hearing about for weeks should remain in place. Constant vigilance and good practice will go far to helping associations and their residents stay safe and healthy.
During these difficult times, Keough & Moody will continue to do all we can to assist members of the Board and management. We will also continue to keep you advised of new developments and recommendations on how to address COVID-19 situations. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact us with your questions.
Chuck Keough (firstname.lastname@example.org),
Dawn Moody (email@example.com),
Gabriella Comstock (firstname.lastname@example.org)