Phase 3 of Florida’s reopening involves looser restrictions for public gyms, restaurants and recreational spaces. But, what does that mean for condominium and homeowner associations?
Watch our webinar, Florida’s Phase 3 and What it Means to You, where industry experts – Attorney Donna DiMaggio Berger of Becker and Kim Pinillos, FirstService Residential Vice President – answered the most pressing questions from board members about how to do what’s best for their communities and residents.
Below are the answers to the most frequently asked questions from board members like you.
The Phase 3 reopen order issued by Governor DeSantis is an executive order directed at businesses and stimulating the economy – particularly restaurants – giving them some guidance with regard to what they can and can’t do in terms of indoor dining and capacity.
The order has almost no impact on private residential communities unless your board wants it to. For mixed-use communities with commercial units, there may be some impact if the board has imposed restrictions on the business activity in those commercial units. The order does not mean that you need to reopen amenities if they’re still closed or that you have to change your schedule if your amenities are operating on a reduced schedule.
Board members should continue to adhere to the guidance set forth by the medical experts. The Florida Department of Health and the CDC are still recommending social distancing at a minimum of 6 feet but, many people feel comfortable expanding that a little further to 8 to 10 feet. Certainly, facial coverings should be used in common areas where you cannot be socially distanced. These decisions are made on a community-by-community basis. In terms of your resident population, social distancing and facial coverings should absolutely be enforced – whether or not you’ve had or currently have active infections.
There are 67 counties in Florida, and local orders vary by county. For instance, Broward County clearly states no guest usage at the pool but Palm Beach County does not. “Associations throughout the state are borrowing things they like from other county orders,” said Donna DiMaggio Berger,” shareholder, Becker. “If your community is located in Collier County and you don’t feel comfortable having guests use your pool or your tennis courts, that doesn’t mean that your association cannot impose a guest restriction just because your local order didn’t address that.” Florida is still under a state of emergency until November 3, and board members can continue to exercise emergency powers under Florida Statute 718. Boards have the ability to create more restrictive guidelines as opposed to the state orders.
“People are looking to boards make tough decisions,” adds Berger. “It’s going to be tough now with the government orders pulling back. You have to have the strength of conviction to tell your members, “We’re doing this because this is what we think is needed to protect our residents.”
Whatever decisions you make as a board, it is important that you communicate with your residents and inform them of the plans for future reopening or changes in hours of operations.
The governor’s order suspended a collection of fines at the government level only. Associations can still issue violations and fines, and suspend rights to use common areas for breaking community rules.
Playground areas are virtually impossible to maintain social distancing, so you may want to keep those areas closed. Now might not be the time to open as there are reports of infections amongst elementary school children in Florida. We know that there’s a possibility of children passing the virus on to adults so you should have a compelling reason to open those areas right now.
For vendors and others coming into your community, whether it’s a realtor or a contractor, consider using an indemnification agreement and proof of insurance, and add the association as an additional insurer. If those steps are taken to protect the association, the board can proceed with a higher level of comfort.
Some associations have COVID-19 protocols that restrict access to common areas to anyone coming in from another state for up to 14 days. Remember, boards can create more restrictive protocols than what is outlined in the local orders. Those guidelines are the minimum of what you can do under your emergency powers, in effect until November 3. You have the right as a board to take whatever measures you think are reasonably necessary to safeguard your residents.
Boards have to take into account that 55-and-better communities have a highly vulnerable resident population, many of whom may have underlying health conditions. You must factor that into your decisions regarding facial coverings, distancing, even how you hold your meetings. “Many FirstService Residential-managed communities are embracing technology and they’re really enjoying it,” said Kim Pinillos, vice president, FirstService Residential. “It’s really allowing for greater participation among the unit owners, especially for those that may be out of town or may not live full-time at our communities. As a result of becoming more familiar with technology, a lot of our communities have adopted online voting that perhaps they resisted in the past. They’re getting much greater participation which I think is probably one of the best things that’s come from this pandemic.”
Yes, this should be part of your COVID-19 protocols. If a resident has advised that someone in their household has tested positive, ask them to quarantine the entire household. The resident will need to provide negative results in the form of a doctor’s letter or COVID test result. The management team should also take the necessary steps to ensure that the resident receives mail, deliveries, removal of trash, whatever needs to be done to keep that household and neighboring residents safe.
Boards should notify the community when a resident has tested positive without providing any identifying information. Excluding this step can open associations up to liability. Notification serves two purposes. It helps reinforce why the board has passed and continues to enforce the safety protocols. And, it encourages people to come forward if they do have an infection.
Again, protocols should also include doing whatever needs to be done to keep that household and neighboring residents safe. “One of the things that we’re doing at FirstService Residential managed communities is being very proactive in providing assistance with packages, deliveries and groceries,” adds Pinillos. “We’ve made these services available for everyone because we do have immune compromised people in some of our communities. We’ve tried to make it as pleasant an experience as we can for our residents.”
The new normal is going to be the new normal for years to come. “If boards are in the midst of lobby renovations or other common area renovations, whether it’s recreational facilities or the gym, start thinking about traffic flow and touchless surfaces,” suggests Berger. “If you’re redoing the entryway, you may want to have those automatic open doors rather than push in and push out. Your bathrooms too. You may want to have as many touchless surfaces as possible. It may be as simple as relocating furniture. Many developers, architects and designers are all thinking about this now for the future commercial and residential spaces they’re designing.”