Dear HOA Boards,
I hope everyone is safe and able to successfully able to to practice Social Distancing. After looking on many social platforms and not seeing where the leaders of our communities are reaching out to it's members publicly, it sparked me to write a letter. This letter in no way means that leaders are not communicating privately but I want to provide some help to the community leadership teams as they lead in these tough times ahead.
Living in communities that are commonly known as homeowners associations, condominiums and housing cooperatives are being presented with new challenges for all involved such as homeowners, board members, community managers and business partners who need to navigate through this uncharted territory - COVID-19.
Q: How should an HOA Board respond during this crisis?
A: This is so important because people are seeking answers.
Communication is key. Decisions are the lifeline to a connected community. Whatever a community decides to do regarding meetings, events, common areas, amenities and other measures regarding COVID-19, it should clearly and consistently communicate with residents. Consider using a newsletter, website, email, social media or bulletin board to inform and educate. Any form would be great but all means communicate. Silence will help no one.
Q: How should HOA boards respond if they learn that a resident tested positive for the coronavirus? Do they have an obligation to inform residents? Is there liability for the HOA board if it does not?
A: This raises conflicting interests: a person’s privacy about their medical condition and the membership’s safety.
Authorized disclosure. If the person with the coronavirus authorizes full disclosure, the board can disclose the person’s name to the membership. This allows residents who had contact with the person to immediately self-quarantine and get tested for the virus. Please put a plan in place to aid the community, vendors and anyone else that interacts daily with our community. Once again Communication is KEY.
No authorization. If the infected person tells the board in confidence that he contracted the coronavirus and does not want anyone to know, the board may still have a duty to notify the membership. However, it would do so without disclosing the person’s name. The board would simply report, “A resident has reported testing positive for the coronavirus.”A disclosure, however limited, alerts residents to take extra precautions to protect themselves. In addition to giving notice, the board should contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has the power to make additional disclosures, trace contacts, quarantine individuals and take other actions it deems medically necessary. Once again Communication is KEY.
Self-quarantine. What if the person does not have the coronavirus? He is simply self-quarantining as a precaution. If that is all being done, there is no obligation to notify the membership however there is always the potential for liability if a board becomes aware of a threat to their community and does NOTHING. If, as a result of the failure to disclose, members fall ill and some die from the illness, lawsuits can/will likely follow. Accordingly, silence may not be the best course of action. Once again Communication is KEY.
Recommendation: As volunteers, boards are allowed to seek expert advice. When confronted with issues involving the coronavirus, directors should not make decisions based solely on recommendations in a newsletter, whether mine or someone else’s. They should contact legal counsel and the CDC for guidance. Once again Communication is KEY.
Q: How should HOA boards respond to HOA dues being paid?
A: This raises conflicting interests for the community: There are many issues going on with people losing jobs, income, public safety and like.
HOAs need to put a plan in place that will address their community and help them know what is next. The best way to ward off calls is to provide info upfront. The plan should include ways to pay as well as start dates of payments so as to not take on any unnecessary expenses during that plan. The board must meet (Teleconference as necessary) to discuss the needs of the community and next steps based on the City guidelines.
Bottom line to all of on leading your community, communication is KEY.