Coronavirus & Your Community: Calming the Chaos
By Michael A. Sottolano
The proliferation of Coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting your daily life. People who have been exposed or are infected may be in your community. They may be your neighbors, friends, service provider or delivery driver. They may have recently used the elevator in your building, recreational facilities in your clubhouse, community pool or gym.
Recent changes in the law brought about through executive orders by the Governor of Virginia, Mayor of the District of Columbia, recommendations from the nation’s Center for Disease Control (“CDC”), as well as practical advice from health care professionals familiar with the disease have caused many communities to implement changes to association practices and policies. Requirements to practice “social distancing” and keep a minimum of six feet away from another and requests to limit or prohibit outside visitors or vendors from entering the community may have been adopted by your association’s board of directors and circulated throughout your membership. While these changes may be reasonable and necessary to combat the spread of the disease, the effect on owners and residents of your community may be increased stress, anger and/or concern.
Many people are experiencing emotions ranging from mild anxiety to serious panic about COVID-19. Anxiety and fear about a disease can be overwelming and cause strong emotions. According to the CDC, the people who may respond more strongly to the stress of this crisis include:
(1) Older people and people with chronic diseases who are at higher risk for COVID-19;
(2) Children and teens;
(3) People who are helping with the response to COVID-19, such as doctors, nurses, other health care providers, and first responders; and
(4) People with mental health conditions including problems with substance use.
Residents and owners may be expressing strong emotions to managing agents, community leaders and other residents in an unhealthy or destructive manner. What should community managers and leaders do if put in a situation where their health or safety, or those of other residents, is threatened by irrational or dangerous behavior or to help a resident who is experiencing a difficult time?
(1) De-escalate the situation and present a calm response. Understand that the times we are living through are taking a toll on all of us. The unprecedented nature of the current pandemic can create feelings of uncertainty and fear, but most of the recent changes to applicable law and association practices will likely not be permanent. When presented with an owner or resident who is angry or behaving belligerently in relation to a change in association practice or policy due to COVID-19 or resulting from concern about the virus or their personal situation, keep a friendly and non-confrontational tone when responding. Listen and try to understand what is upsetting the person and indicate that you are willing to learn why the specific complaint or concern is a problem and work towards a solution.
Ultimately, it may be that the person only needs someone to listen and acknowledge the issue and address or correct if necessary and appropriate. If the issue raised requires the attention of the board, then it should be relayed in the normal course of business (or on an expedited basis if an emergency or presents a legitimate threat to the health or safety of the community). Appropriate follow-up with the owner or resident should also be provided after the board of directors has a made a decision on how to proceed and respond.
(2) Call law enforcement and alert the health department if necessary. Managing agents and community leaders may be presented with situations where their own health or safety, or that of residents, is threatened by someone acting dangerously or irrationally. This could include an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 refusing to self-quarantine or follow the rules and guidelines promulgated by the State and Federal government or the CDC. It could also include an individual whose COVID-19 status is unconfirmed threatening to expose or infect others by refusing to comply with rules or procedures put in place by the association to protect the health and safety of residents.
In situations where a resident is posing a threat to the health or safety of the building or community, law enforcement or the health department should be promptly contacted to assist. Due to the evolving nature of the response to this disease, guidance regarding what to do from the local health department should be sought when a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19 is involved and may have potentially exposed others in the building or community to the virus.
(3) Put in place an action plan. It may be necessary and beneficial to your community for the board to adopt, via resolution, policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the recent changes in the law brought about through executive order and recommended best practices to stop the spread of COVID-19. Such policies should be reasonable, incorporate the most recent recommended best practices to prevent the spread of the virus, address the consequences of noncompliance, penalties that may be assessed and establish procedures to assist the board and management in monitoring and enforcing compliance.
An association’s board of directors should also be aware that the power to enact such rules and establish these procedures will be derivative of authority from the association’s governing documents. Community associations are not sovereign (governmental) entities and thus have no police power, in the constitutional sense of that term. Boards should be careful not to overreach and attempt to establish or enforce a rule which is beyond the scope of its authority or impossible to enforce. Ultimately, even if the board is acting with the community’s best interests in mind, a court may not be willing to enforce a rule or change in association policy which is in conflict with the association’s governing documents or applicable law.
The board should consult and work with its legal counsel to ensure that any policy resolutions or changes to the association’s practices or procedures are harmonious with the association’s governing documents and applicable law.
The threat which COVID-19 poses to your community is real and may require changes to how your association operates. These changes, the current health crisis and the stress that accompanies a disruption of normal routines, especially one where the length of which is uncertain, may have brought out the worst in some of the owners and residents in your community. Empathy, kindness and cooperation, coupled with the implementation of reasonable changes to association policies, practices and procedures designed to protect the health and safety of those living in the community, can go a long way towards easing some of the intense emotions and craziness which you and your association’s managing agents and community leaders may have observed or experienced recently. With strong leadership and considerate planning your association can weather the current crisis and may even come out of it a stronger and more close-knit community.
If you or someone you care about is feeling overwhelmed about COVID-19, or feels like they may harm themselves, the following resources are available:
- Call 911
- Visit the SAMHSA Disaster Distress website at https://www.samhsa.gov/disaster-preparedness, call its hotline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746;
- Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call 1-800-273-8255; or
- Visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline at https://www.thehotline.org/, call 1-800-799-7233 or text “LOVEIS” to 22522.