The coronavirus, or COVID-19, has caused a lot of concern and disruptions to everyday life. And for every new guideline, we are given, there are probably 10 questions that come up. For homeowners’ association boards, this can be particularly stressful. Board members have questions, residents are concerned and asking questions, and there is a lack of clarity about what actions boards can and should take.
What Can Homeowners’ Association Boards Do?
Experts have been offering their general guidelines for homeowners’ association boards to some of the top questions that have come up. We’ll provide that information below.
For the most recent coronavirus-specific information, please consult the CDC, state and local health department websites. That is where you can find the most up-to-date recommendations and status of the outbreak. Everyone should follow the guidelines that have been given, such as staying 6 feet apart, washing hands often, staying home if you are sick, and limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer.
Closing Common Areas
Some board members have asked if they are allowed to close common areas. The answer from experts is – mostly. Most governing documents provide the board with the authority to “operate, manage, and supervise” common areas and facilities. Places that encourage recreational gatherings probably should be closed. This would include clubhouses, gyms, and pools. But common areas that are absolutely needed by residents likely cannot be closed. For example, while the laundry room can’t be closed, that is a place where social distancing directions should be posted, and the action encouraged. Another suggestion is to create a schedule for the laundry room, to ensure residents are kept a safe distance from each other.
People in the Community
Some boards have wondered whether they can prohibit visitors from entering the community. At least one expert said she is recommending that associations prohibit all non-essential guests from entering the community (excluding caretakers and immediate family members). The idea is that it is more important to protect the residents from exposure to the virus.
Another issue that has come up is whether renovation projects can be prohibited. Experts recommend that contractors be prohibited from entering the community unless emergency repairs are needed. People who do have to enter should wear protective gear. If a resident needs in-unit services, they should be considered on a case-by-case basis. For a truly essential problem (such as a leak), there are protocols that can be put in place to keep everyone safe.
People have also wondered whether residents can quarantine in a community association. The answer is that residents have a right to stay in their home if they are quarantined, and management needs to plan for how these residents will get their mail, packages, and get rid of their garbage.
Similarly, if the association board is informed that a resident has tested positive for coronavirus, there are certain steps to take. They need to first ask the person whether they will be self-quarantining, for how long, and where this will occur. The board should discuss whether to inform the rest of the community that there is an infected person living there. If you do decide to disclose that information, no names or details about that person should be given out, to protect their privacy.
Official Business of the Board
An issue that has come up for some boards is whether their scheduled annual election can be held right now. Experts say that because the federal government has limited all gatherings to 10 people or fewer, and some states have banned all non-essential get-togethers, the election should not be held as scheduled. Instead, there are two options to consider:
First, the annual meeting could be suspended until the crisis is over and meetings are allowed. Once that happens, reschedule the meeting, have the inspector of elections bring in the ballots, open them in front of the membership and tabulate the results. Then the new directors are seated. Until then, existing directors remain in place.
The second option experts offer is to suspend attendance but count the ballots. You can suspend membership attendance but have the inspector open the ballots and tabulate the results.
The coronavirus crisis has not only brought up health concerns but financial as well. And along with personal financial concerns, there are natural questions that come up for association boards.
One issue is residents being late or delinquent on their assessments. Experts say that compassionate leniency should be used whenever possible. So the board would review their financials to determine whether essential services could still be provided if they did not collect late fees. If the answer is yes, it would be helpful to waive late fees and fines during the crisis period.
People have questioned whether boards should allow an assessment reduction if community areas are closed down. Usually, this would not happen. The facilities are only closed out of concern for the health and safety of a community. And there will likely be even higher cleaning costs for those areas. Typically, an assessment reduction only applies if a resident is receiving services that others are not.
Of course, boards wonder how to handle owners who are facing a financial crisis due to the coronavirus. They are worried about residents losing their homes, but also need to make sure the association stays solvent. If a homeowner falls far behind on their payments, the association can place a lien on the property to protect the association but suspend all foreclosure activity. Then once the homeowners are working again, a payment plan can be worked out.
One of the problems is residents aren’t working right now, which can trickle down to impact the association’s fees. This is the time to use the reserve fund to pay the bills. The government documents will outline the exact steps your board will need to take in order to access the fund. Usually, the money used has to be paid back within a year.