Nonessential building projects – both interior and exterior – were shut down in March as the coronavirus pandemic descended on New York City. Now, as the state moves through its reopening phases, there is pent-up demand to get these projects moving again. Boards and their managers are grappling with how to let these projects restart and proceed safely. Drawing from nine roundtable discussions, we highlight the challenges and solutions offered by management executives.
Now that building projects and apartment alterations can proceed, how are you advising your clients to schedule and monitor them?
Georgia Lombardo-BartonPeople are eager to complete their pending projects and move in. I think a staggered process would be a better approach, but whatever we wind up doing, the boards are going to make sure that the contractor is diligent in making sure his crews are keeping social distance, wearing their masks or face coverings, hand-washing and sanitizing as they enter and exit the building. And also designating a specific exit/entrance for these contractors.
Peter Lehr One of the things that we've been talking about are jobs that were nearing completion – paint jobs, punch-list items, jobs where one or two employees can handle the work. We will start with those projects first, get them finished and take care of those people who have been waiting pretty much the longest to move in.
Mark LevineI think that one of the things the board should be concerned about is how it entertains applications for alterations and scheduling. Just because the city says it's OK, it doesn't necessarily mean that the building has to let everybody do everything at the same time. We want to manage it proactively and make sure that we do it in such a way that everybody stays safe. Because each alteration requires elevator usage, multiple people coming in and out of the building, you have to schedule work in such a way that you're not affecting the overall health of the building.
What about protocols? Is it the contractor’s job to monitor safety, or is it the building’s?
Mark Hoffman Contractors have to sign a Department of Health testament to the requirements of opening the job. In addition, they're required to post a safety plan on site. So these are two governmental requirements that are the starting point, and the building can add further requirements on top of that.
Levine Boards should not be sacrificing the health and time of the staff in these projects. They must have certain protocols in place for anybody that's moving in, moving out, or doing alterations. In addition to providing all the insurance certificates and the lead certificates and all the engineer's reports, we now have to know how you and your contractor are handling their COVID-19 responsibilities. Are you putting an air lock on the outside of the door? Are you letting people go in and out of the apartment once they're in? How are you minimizing the footprint of all this work?
Lehr I'm advising all of my superintendents and my property managers that if crews are not practicing social distancing or if they’re not wearing personal protective equipment, then they should shut the job down. Have them come back when they’re fully protected and at least trying to be socially distant. If they’re allowed to use building facilities, they’re responsible for cleaning those facilities on a daily basis. If they have to bring a portapotty to a site, then they should do so. And that should not be a cost that's borne by shareholders or boards.
Hoffman We prepared a special COVID-19 addendum to the alteration agreement that needs to be executed by the shareholder and contractor prior to commencement of the project. It outlines that they're required to follow all the safety and social distancing protocols, and it provides protection to the co-op to stop any job at any time. The boards pretty much have unilateral control over the entire process. If there are any issues or problems, the job gets shut down and can't restart until the board says so.
Michael WolfeIf we're talking COVID-specific guidelines within a building, the board will have to make informed decisions. So we have given our clients a menu of suggested protocols for move-ins, move-outs, for deliveries, for nannies, for housekeepers, for workers, for rooftops, for gyms and amenity rooms. Some of these rooms can't open yet until the state’s phases allow them to. So once the boards have information, a letter will go to residents, including these rules and regulations. Every board is different, and every board makes different decisions. But by giving them enough information, they can make informed decisions.
Daniel Wollman Workers have to wear masks any time they’re in the common areas of the building. If they need to get to the roof, once everyone has taken the elevator to get up there, we take the elevator back, we clean it, and then we utilize it for the rest of the day. So we're going to be doing as much as we can to get everyone to whatever place they need to be – whether it's in an apartment or up on the roof or somewhere else in the building – and keep them there for the entire day, if we can, and then take them down at the end of the day. We really don't want anyone anywhere in the building other than where they're designated to go.
Joseph MobiliaAs far as using the elevator, at this point it’s pretty standard: most elevators aren't more than six feet wide. You should put out a notice that says, "Have respect. If somebody asks you to take the next elevator, do so." It's a courtesy thing. Try to make sure that you give as much space as possible.
With many people working at home, what does the board do about the excessive noise caused by construction?
MobiliaThe hardest part of this is actually going to be with the amount of people at home at this time. Having construction going on in the apartment above you while you're trying to make business calls is going to be an interesting challenge. But following safety guidelines and maybe shortening the hours of the construction could help.
Wolfe More people are working from home, and you have this demolition going on. On the other side is the fact that we have fewer people in the building. It's summertime. Let them bang away; let's get all this demolition done. These people have been waiting for months, and I'm inclined, in most cases, to say, “Let the people get started and get that done.”