Bill Morris in Building Operations on May 21, 2020
Now comes the tricky part. After weathering the onslaught of the deadly coronavirus through aggressive protocols on deliveries, cleaning, social distancing, mask wearing and the shutdown of amenities, co-op and condo boards are now facing an even knottier challenge. With summer looming and quarantine fatigue setting in, many boards are under pressure from residents to loosen rules and reopen building amenities, from roof decks to pools to gyms. Now more than ever, several professionals advise, caution and common sense are needed to avert a fresh spike of the deadly virus.
“We need to find a way of functioning, while at the same time continuing to be careful,” says Stuart Saft, a partner at the law firm Holland & Knight. “I’m seeing boards getting pressure from both sides. A lot of boards don’t want to loosen the rules or let people who have been out in the Hamptons return to the building, possibly bringing the disease with them. Other boards are being pressured to open up. Boards need to find a middle ground. We can’t stay locked up for the rest of 2020.”
To that end, Saft and his firm have put together a list of 18 optional house rules, available here, which tackle the looming challenges of reopening amenities and controlling apartment showings, alterations, and move-ins and move-outs. One sample suggestion is that gyms, roof decks and other amenities should be available only to residents, with social distancing rules intact, and that the amenities should be offered exclusively to residents over the age of 60 during a designated one-hour period every day. Other suggestions include showing apartments for sale or lease by appointment only, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., and allowing one move-in or move-out at a time, by appointment only, with the party moving in or out reimbursing the co-op corporation or condominium association for the cost of sanitizing the elevator and hallways used for the move.
“Obviously, boards have to keep an eye on the governor’s executive orders and what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is saying,” says Phyllis Weisberg, a partner at the law firm Armstrong Teasdale. “And boards have to think about what applies in their building. What works in one building might not work in another.”
Armstrong Teasdale has also put together a document, “Protocols in the Age of COVID-19,” available here, that boards can use to tailor their building’s path toward a safe reopening. Boards that decide to allow apartment renovations to resume, for instance, are advised to make sure the contractor takes each worker’s temperature before they enter the building, and certify that workers meet a list of criteria, including no positive COVID-19 test, no symptoms, and no contact with infected persons during the past 14 days. As for gyms, the protocols recommend extending hours to minimize crowding and making sure that all equipment is wiped down before and after every use.
But enforcement of such rules, Weisberg notes, could become a problem. “Who’s going to police the roof deck,” she asks, “when people want to party and break the rules on face coverings and social distancing?”
The ultimate decision on a complete reopening rests with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose seven criteria are spelled out here. Certain upstate areas have been allowed to reopen, while New York City has not. Until it is, the city’s co-op and condo boards will have to navigate gray areas, such as roof decks and move-ins. As they do, Marc Schneider, managing partner at the law firm Schneider Buchel, offers this: “I’m advising my clients that they need to be looking at the overall interests of the entire community, rather than certain residents who are giving them pressure. Even when the governor’s rules are relaxed, for instance, you shouldn’t open the gym until you can do it safely – with social distancing and proper cleaning.”
Adds Weisberg: “If you loosen restrictions, understand the implications. You can’t suspend common sense.”
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