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Spread Cheer, Not COVID

The holidays this year are going to be different – think more “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” rather than “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” With the coronavirus pandemic still in full swing, gathering large groups of loved ones isn’t – or shouldn’t be – in the cards.


Can co-op and condo boards do anything to prevent residents from hosting holiday gatherings? Some are trying. Rebecca Martin’s 76-unit co-op in Woodside, Queens, has been on top of it since early in the year. “We put out a couple of communications (regarding groups) in the beginning and renewed them as needed,” she says. “One was more excessive, and it had rules about visitors and things like that. At the time, we urged strongly against them.” That policy has continued, and the board is considering how to update it for the holidays.


Generally, boards are encouraging residents to follow city and state guidelines. For example, two weeks before Thanksgiving, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued Executive Order 202.74, limiting residential gatherings to 10 people or fewer. In a building without a doorman, however, it can be nearly impossible to track who is coming in and out, so residents must be trusted to police themselves. Board policies limiting elevator use and requiring masks in all hallways and common areas are still in effect.


Helene Hartig, an attorney, believes that the biggest stumbling block for boards that want to limit visitors during the holidays will be enforcement. “How do you enforce that? Do you stop people at the door?” she asks. “If residents have terraces and they decide to have everyone outside in their coats, can you really stop them?”


Even if the problem of enforcing such a rule doesn’t scare off a board, the threat of a lawsuit might. With people everywhere getting tired of lockdown orders and yearning for some normalcy, banning loved ones at the holidays may be a bridge too far for some residents. Should boards be worried?


“I think that if somebody challenges a board saying it’s being too restrictive, that person would have a very difficult time winning,” Hartig says. “If the board in its business judgment decides that this is for the health and safety of the other residents, it’s in the best interest of everybody in the building (to comply). Just like people who challenged what Gov. Cuomo did – they’ve lost universally.”

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