Marianne Schaefer in COVID-19 on May 28, 2020
As New York State takes its first tentative steps toward reopening businesses, questions and uncertainty abound. But one thing is already clear: reopening will mean more planning and more paperwork for co-op and condo boards.
“We anticipate most real estate activities will be included in Phase Two of the reopening guidelines, which means, based on current projections, co-ops and condos will be considered reopened by the third or fourth week of June,” says attorney Stewart Wurtzel, partner at Tane Waterman & Wurtzel. “By then, buildings, as employers, will need to certify that they know their obligations, have a reopening plan, and that there is a structure in place to implement it.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has emphasized that all businesses should begin working on their reopening plans immediately. Boards have to create a template that satisfies certain safety requirements. The template for buildings is not yet available, but according to Wurtzel it will not look very different from the templates available for businesses already cleared to reopen, such as farming, fishing and construction. For details, visit the New York Forward website.
“It’s going to be a lot of work to develop these safety plans,” Wurtzel says. “And buildings are so different in terms of employees and amenities that every building will have different concerns and permutations. Right now is the time for boards to think about what kind of site safety they’re going to do, what kinds of activities they are going to allow and disallow.”
Once the city starts to reopen, boards may have to rethink their protocols on move-ins and move-outs, deliveries, visitors, open houses, alteration work and how they will regulate the use of amenities such as pools, gyms and roof decks. Doormen, superintendents and porters will need to know what their obligations are, and boards need to understand workers’ rights. Under the state’s Phase One criteria, any individual returning to work is eligible for COVID-19 testing.
Insurance liability is another concern for boards as they reopen. “The more specific and thorough the cleaning protocols are in the reopening plan, the less likely people will be to file a liability claim against a co-op or condo board,” says Jason Schiciano, co-president of Levitt-Fuirst Insurance, a brokerage. “That reopening plan could provide a defense.”
“When the guidance for real estate comes out, then we should start to focus on the specifics,” Wurtzel says. “Each employer, including co-ops and condominiums, is obligated to complete an online certification that they have followed all appropriate guidance to re-open.”
According to the New York State Department of Health website, employers have to prepare a written plan beforehand, detailing how the employer’s workplace will be managed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These plans do not need to be filed with the state but must be kept onsite and available for inspection by Department of Health authorities. Once a building has established these guidelines for building safety, the guidelines have to be enforced.
Long Island began the reopening process this week. In order to reopen, a region must meet certain criteria, including seven health-related benchmarks on infection, death and hospitalization rates, health-care-system capacity, and test-and-trace capacity. New York City, where most of the coronavirus cases have been concentrated, has so far met only five of the seven benchmarks.
“The way the phases have been defined, real estate will be in Phase Two,” Wurtzel says. “For co-ops and condos, this means broader activity, and every building will have to figure out how to reopen and stay safe at the same time. It’s time to think about new house rules.”
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