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A New Gray Area for Co-op Boards: Vaccine or Mask

New York City

COVID-19 rules, common areas and gyms, proof of vaccination, mask-wearing rules, co-op boards.

Requiring unvaccinated people to wear masks in the gym is a new gray area for co-op boards.

July 5, 2021

With vaccination rates rising, infection rates falling and building amenities reopening, co-op boards have entered yet another gray area. One co-op board has ended its mask-wearing requirement in common areas and has fully reopened its gym – but it has also ruled that anyone who is not fully vaccinated must still wear a mask in those spaces. This has led to questions from shareholders. Should the co-op require residents to prove their vaccination status? Should the board ask buyers at the board interview if they’ve been vaccinated before they approve them to live in the building?

The Ask Real Estate column in the New York Times replies that a co-op board and the building staff are not in a good position to police residents. “This is all based on the honor system,” says Dan Wurtzel, president of FirstService Residential New York, a property management company. “We’re not in the business of keeping medical records.”

Let’s say the board decided to have the doorman ask for proof of vaccination. Those residents, as shareholders of the co-op, are actually his employers. What if they refuse to answer the question? Or lie? The doorman can’t stop them from going to their apartment. “I don’t think people want to put the doorman in that position,” says Lisa Smith, a partner at the law firm Smith, Gambrell & Russell. “They’re not bouncers at the bar.”

Theoretically, the board could ask buyers at a board interview if they’ve been vaccinated, but the candidates could avoid answering the question or say that they’re following the guidance of a physician. And of course boards must be extremely careful not to even appear to discriminate against prospective purchasers – for any reason – during the approval process.

Here’s a thought. Walking across a lobby or working out in a gym are not unlike getting on the subway. You can’t be certain if the person next to you is vaccinated, so if you don’t feel comfortable in your surroundings, wear a mask.

Some co-ops may be slower to loosen their rules, or may continue to require visitors and vendors (like nannies and housekeepers) to wear masks in common areas. One space that may remain closed for the foreseeable future, though, is the children’s playroom. Children under 12 are still not eligible for any vaccine, so those spaces are unlikely to reopen in the near future.

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