New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine July/August 2020 free digital issue




Co-op and Condo Boards Can Sue to Enforce Social Distancing

Coronavirus protocols, social distancing, self-quarantine, fines, lawsuits, co-op and condo boards.

This is what proper social distancing looks like.

March 31, 2020

On Monday, with the city’s death toll from Covid-19 approaching 700, crowds of spectators packed the banks of the Hudson River to welcome the arrival of the hospital ship USNS Comfort. Meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio was announcing that citizens who refuse police orders to practice social distancing would be fined up to $500. Given New Yorkers’ stubborn refusal to comply with social-distancing and self-quarantine edicts, many co-op and condo boards are facing a challenge. 

“What should boards do if a coronavirus-positive resident fails to follow a building’s coronavirus protocols, exposing others to danger?” law firm Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas says in a memo to its roughly 300 condo and co-op board clients, the Real Deal reports. “(Or) if residents or tenants are gathering in groups or allowing workers, personal trainers and other non-essential visitors into their apartments?” 

The firm’s advice: seek “emergency injunctive relief” if neighbors flout building policies meant to stop the spread of coronavirus. “The last thing anyone wants is litigation,” says Steven Sladkus, a partner in the firm. “But in this particular context, if people’s health, safety and welfare are potentially being jeopardized, that seems good enough reason.”

The state’s chief administrative judge issued a directive Sunday that New York courts would no longer be accepting filings on non-essential matters. But the administrative order exempted “essential proceedings” that courts will continue to address and noted that courts would allow “emergency applications related to the coronavirus.”

Sladkus adds that the firm has received an “enormous” number of inquiries from co-op and condo boards struggling with residents who are violating quarantine protocols. 

Leni Morrison Cummins, a member at the law firm Cozen O’Connor, recommends that boards with the power to levy penalties should impose “hefty” fines up to $1,000 for those who violate building coronavirus policies. “I find that financial ramifications do curtail most bad behavior,” she says, though she acknowledges that for an “ongoing threat” to residents’ health and safety, she would consider emergency action via the courts.

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