After 6 weeks of working to flatten the curve, Californians are eager, yet anxious, to resume some sense of their former routines. Although Governor Newsom gave no firm timeline for an end to the “Stay at Home” Order, he acknowledged that it is a matter of days and not weeks before California starts to reopen. The CDC recommends three steps before businesses resume operation:
- Develop a Plan
- Implement Your Plan
- Maintain and Revise Your Plan
Owners and boards who are ready can start planning a phased reopening for their communities. Boards should not reopen their communities until they have considered their basic needs, and have a plan in place to address essential elements. Below are a few ideas to help communities and boards begin the planning process.
Management of High-Rise and Planned Development communities usually require staff to monitor services. Communities that provide onsite services may need to be sensitive to requests for a return of larger groups of employees/management/vendors onto the property. Both owners and employees should continue practicing appropriate social distancing to reduce transmission. Staggered employment shifts may be required to maintain safety for owners and employees. Since employees will most likely be required to wear masks for the short term, think about how you can provide adequate gear and accommodations.
Warmer weather means a desire to utilize outside courts, playgrounds, pools, and picnic areas. However, boards still have to balance safety of the owners and compliance with state law. Communities should work with their management companies and legal counsel to prioritize which amenities pose the lowest risk and highest benefit to the owners. Can you ensure required level of social distancing? Can you minimize the risk of transmission? Consider whether reopening also requires elevated staffing to effectively operate.
Maintenance and Delivery
After an extended absence in use, amenities may need associations to do some basic maintenance to get them user-ready. Don’t wait until the Governor officially reopens California to investigate what that requires, including: removal of outdoor furniture, new spacing in gyms and community rooms, or additional cleaning supplies and masks. Once the flood of owners return, an association may experience greater wear and tear than normal. Associations may need to work with management on an increased maintenance plan moving forward.
As owners begin to return to common areas, there will be more contact with vendors and delivery people. The association may need to limit owner access when vendors are on site and consider having a designated area where vendors and Owners can receive delivery of food or other supplies. Although we may be moving away from “Stay In Place” orders, communities will still need to maintain appropriate safeguards for all employees and owners.
The more common areas and amenities in a community, the greater the cost of reopening and maintenance. Although some owners may believe costs have decreased, many communities may experience increased cleaning and vendor costs due to the current pandemic. The association may need to purchase additional cleaning supplies and masks for use by the owners and employees in shared Common Areas. Determine what the association is prepared to spend to ensure continued safe use of reopened areas. Communities that need to clean after contact with an infected individual can expect costs between $3,000 and $7,000 depending on the surface. The board may need to revisit the original budget and reallocate resources appropriately.
Governor Newsom has urged a cautious strategy for California. But not all counties and communities are on board. Some counties are deciding to reopen or remain in place based on county health and wellness trends. But even neighboring cities within the same county could see different standards at work. Ultimately, your community may look at your city, county, or even neighboring communities and see widely different decisions. Make sure that your community works within local requirements and coordinates with legal counsel on the latest orders, which in some cases are changing on a daily basis.
Finally, a decision to reopen any amenity comes with deciding your community’s tolerance for risk. Often associations maintain insurance to cover risks associated with routine operation. While it is unlikely that individuals could trace their illness to association property, it is equally unlikely that your insurance policy will cover risks associated with disease transmission. Take into account your community demographics, number of amenities, and appetite for risk before deciding that any amenity is ready for use.
Unfortunately, there is no simple strategy to guarantee an easy opening. Every community needs to look at its budget, its owners, and its amenities to decide when it is right to safely transition. Once the association has basic planning underway and a good strategy in place, boards can look at slowly opening the community and protecting the owners and their interests.
By Matthew Gardner … Mr. Gardner is a partner of Richardson|Ober|DeNichilo who works with community associations, homeowners and HOA boards of directors to amend governing documents, resolve homeowner/member disputes, manage assessment delinquency matters and provide leadership training to volunteers and community members.