COVID-19 and Common Interest Communities: Practical Advice for Association Leaders
Updated March 26, 2020
The Coronavirus pandemic (“COVID-19”) has caused a major public health crisis in the United States and is having a significant effect on community associations, particularly as more Americans are asked to stay at home to quell the spread of the virus. While it is unclear what the coronavirus’s ultimate impact will be, associations are well-advised to address the possible effects of COVID-19 in their communities.
Just like any business, Common Interest Communities (CICs) are charged with making business decisions regarding the operation of their communities in the face of any number of external factors. The global COVID-19 pandemic is obviously a substantial crisis that will affect the association’s facilities and its members. Below are some tips to help association leaders administer and operate their CIC in the face of COVID-19.
Please note this is neither health care advice nor legal advice. Specific legal advice would be dependent on your CIC’s governing documents and state law. For health care advice, consult your doctor or check the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website or your local health department’s website.
- Can We Close Facilities or Reduce Services? As the number of COVID-19 cases increases nationwide and in the region, boards are faced with difficult business decisions — can we close common facilities and amenities? Can we suspend certain services? Most governing documents provide clear authority to the board to “operate, manage and supervise” common facilities and association services, which could include suspending their operation. If the board believes that closing a gym, business center or community room or discontinuing in-unit servicing is in the interest of the health and safety of residents and/or employees, this is arguably a defensible, wise business decision under the governing documents. If a board makes such a decision, we recommend making the rationale clear in a written communication to the members.
- Membership Meetings. CICs are generally operated by means of collective meetings, specifically membership, board and committee meetings. Community leaders are encouraged to use discretion to determine whether there is a real need for such “live” meetings during this difficult time. It may be advisable for CICs to postpone Annual or Special Membership Meetings or consider how you may be able to implement an electronic means of participation. Many statutes provide for an “out-of-schedule” annual meeting by allowing Board members to serve until their successors are elected. You may consider whether your governing law or documents allow for a postponed annual meeting, e-voting or other alternatives, without affecting the validity of your CIC’s actions.
- Board/Committee Meetings. Boards should to consider whether face-to-face meetings are truly necessary, when some matters may be decided by taking an “action without a meeting” in accordance with their governing documents or corporate law. Alternatively, state laws and governing documents may allow such meetings to be conducted wholly or partially via electronic or telephonic means. Please note that where a meeting is conducted by telephone or video conference in Virginia, at least two members of the Board are supposed to be physically present at the meeting place described by the notice. But if a notice to the community provides that a board meeting will be held via tele- or video-conference (with a phone number or web portal open to all members), a court could find such arrangements unobjectionable due to the pandemic crisis, as long as no member is prevented from observing and participating in the meeting in some manner.
- Advise Members Not To Attend If Sick. Associations should consider advising members not to attend meetings if they are ill or COVID-19 symptomatic. To the extent feasible, associations could consider providing a means for sick or symptomatic members to observe meetings remotely, perhaps through a video- or teleconference.
- Common Element/Common Area Issues. As noted above, associations typically have the option to close facilities if the board believes it is in the interests of the residents. For areas that remain open, remember that viruses may be able to transmit via contaminated surfaces. While an association has limited ability to sterilize all common areas, there are some steps that can be taken to improve the sanitary situation on certain common area facilities and equipment. For example:
- Enhanced Cleaning. Association cleaning contractors or employees can undertake more extensive cleaning or wiping down of common area surfaces and equipment, elevator surfaces and other areas.
- Close Facilities. The Association may even consider temporarily closing certain areas/facilities where germs/viruses are easily spread, such as gyms.
- Postpone Events. If there are events scheduled in the midst of the outbreak, where large numbers of people may be collected, the Board could consider postponing.
- Sanitizer. Install hand sanitizer dispensers/wipes on the common area and urge members to undertake the CDC-recommended hand-washing protocols.
- Employees Wash Hands. The Association should encourage employees to wash hands frequently and clean/disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces on common areas.
Final Thoughts. Obviously, a public health crisis like COVID-19 is relatively “new ground” for CICs in the United States. Creativity and flexibility may help lead boards to achieve the best possible business decisions in administering their communities under these conditions. Please know our firm is here to help and ready to serve community leaders and CICs as we navigate these difficult waters.