Smart Common Area Management in a Time of Contagion
As the coronavirus pandemic heated up this spring, community association managers dealt with an onslaught of calls from clients. People were feeling out of control and ramping up their expectations for protective measures from their associations. One particular area of focus? The risk of contagion in common areas.
Managers and boards of directors owe a fiduciary duty to the association to act in good faith, prudently, and in the best interest of the association. The duty generally doesn’t include protecting owners’ health and safety. But that doesn’t mean they’re off the hook when it comes to the question of quelling the spread of infections.
“Associations don’t guarantee owners’ personal safety — that’s impossible — but there is the duty to not be negligent and to take reason steps in light of foreseeable harm,” says Michael Kim of Schoenberg Finkel Newman & Rosenberg, LLC in Chicago.
“If you have a healthcare crisis that’s been acknowledged by government officials, and they say you should take certain steps, I think it would be negligent for an association not to take appropriate steps.”
Just what those steps are is up to the board (preferably in consultation with association counsel), not the manager.
“What we did to protect ourselves in decisions about how to treat the common areas was direct the boards to the CDC website and the county health department for suggestions, information, and guidance for gathering places,” says Paul Grucza, director of education and client development at the Seattle-based management company CWD Group. “We left it up to the board to determine how they wanted to handle it and then we would be the messenger.”
The board’s options will depend on the type of community, the applicable government orders, and the governing documents. In the case of the coronavirus, the responses seem to fall somewhere on a spectrum from complete closures of amenities to less intense restrictions and stepped-up cleaning.
To learn about some of the various options, and how they play out on the ground, read our new article Protecting Common Areas from Contagion.