There has been an increase in U.S. Coronavirus cases, including eight deaths in Washington state, a case and death has been reported in New York and a case has been confirmed in Rhode Island. That has led to a number of questions from condominium boards to the effect of: What should we do to protect the condominium and its members? What is our responsibility for the clubhouse, pool, workout area, playground, plumbing, HVAC system?”
Condominium boards should be vigilant. However, there are limits on what can be done to fight the Coronavirus. While the Coronavirus should be taken seriously, there’s much that isn’t yet known about the virus. For instance, there were early theories that the virus might have been transmitted in cruise ships and apartment buildings through HVAC circulation or plumbing systems, but nothing has been proven. Several recent US cases do not seem to have a clear origin, leaving us with no clear direction on prevention methods. We hope that there will soon be better guidance from professionals on the disease and how it is transmitted.
My daughter’s high school and several high schools around are organizing companies to disinfect the school on a regular basis, so called disinfectant programs. The thought behind disinfectant programs is the virus lives on surfaces for a period of time. I think the high schools feel it is better to do something rather than nothing.
From a legal perspective, responsibilities will likely fall on familiar lines of ownership—the association controls the condominium’s common areas. With that as a starting point, the association will likely have the following obligations if the Coronavirus, stomach bug, or other illness becomes widespread:
More extensive cleaning, disinfecting, or wiping down of common areas and common area surfaces. (I would be happy to provide names of companies that are utilizing disinfectant programs)
Community events on the common areas, whether a membership meeting or educational event, may need to be postponed or cancelled.
Public common areas, such as gyms, clubhouses, and pools, may need to be temporarily closed.
The association may wish to consider the installation of hand sanitizer dispensers or wipes on the common area for owner and guest use (notwithstanding the fat that the cost of Purell has tripled and is being rationed).
Depending on the course of the virus and as more information becomes available on how it is spread, the association may wish to discuss with facilities professionals whether any changes are necessary to equipment serving the common area or over which the association has control, such as the plumbing or HVAC systems in the clubhouse (or possibly the entire building in a high-rise condo). Recognize that any such upgrades could be prohibitively expensive and, at present, there is nothing to suggest this would help stem the spread of Coronavirus.
If any illness becomes prevalent in a condominium, the association should discuss with its professionals how best to handle the specific situation. As noted above, that talk will certainly have to consider the usual what-does-the-association-have-responsibility-over versus what-does-the-unit-owner-have-responsibility-over issue. At the end of the day, owners will likely be most responsible for their own health and safety.
At least one dog has contracted the corona virus. Associations may need to consider pet restrictions in light of the same, although again that is also premature.
Perhaps greater precautions should be taken in assisted living facilities or where the population is older.
Let’s hope the reports of a pandemic are premature and that this is just an intellectual exercise. However, if you want to discuss your concerns or options, please reach out to Ed Allcock at firstname.lastname@example.org.