Tread Carefully When Infection Comes to the Community
There’s nothing like a public health crisis created by highly contagious virus to get people riled up. And when people live in close communities, they may be especially vulnerable — to both illness and alarm.
The calls about the coronavirus started coming earlier and earlier, says Sandra Gottlieb, a founding partner of California homeowner association law firm SwedelsonGottlieb. “As the death counts climbed in the United States, people were panicking. It was ratcheting up every single day, and I heard the terror.”
Scared owners increasingly are looking to their community associations to protect them from neighbors who may be contagious. Closing down common areas and the like to reduce the spread of germs is one thing, but what can the board of directors and the manager do when a resident actually comes down ill? What is their responsibility to the other owners?
“The most challenging issue so far,” said Ken Bertolucci, president of NS Management in Skokie, Ill., in early April 2020, “is following the proper protocol when a building resident is diagnosed with the virus.”
When word gets around during a public health emergency that a resident is ill, the response from some is predictable. “Of course, we have the nosy-neighbor syndrome,” says Jennifer Horan, a shareholder in the Naples, Fla., office of Becker & Poliakoff.
“Several of our boards have experienced homeowners demanding the identity of the affected party,” Bertolucci says. “Some have been subject to verbal abuse and threats of legal action.”
At one association, he says, an owner whose spouse has a serious medical condition insisted a new owner not be allowed to move in on his floor.
Michael Kim of Schoenberg Finkel Newman & Rosenberg, LLC in Chicago has seen even worse. One of his clients had owners asking if they could shut off the ventilation to a sick person’s unit. “It’s getting medieval,” he says.
To learn about how boards and managers should handle nosy neighbors and deal with infected owners who act irresponsibly, read our new article Someone is Sick: Now What?