In these unusual times, many condo boards are dealing with an owner or tenant who has tested positive for COVID-19.
Whether this person has left the building or is sheltering in place, this puts condo boards in difficult situations. Boards must make tough decisions about how to handle these sensitive situations, including deciding what information should be disseminated to unit owners and tenants.
Here are four considerations for condo boards to keep themselves and their building occupants safe.
No mandated testing or results sharing
A condo board can ask occupants of its building to be tested for the coronavirus. However if an owner or tenant does test, he or she is not required to inform the board of the result.
Confidentiality is imperative
If an occupant who has contracted the virus comes forward — or the board is advised of a person who has tested positive — the board is bound to keep the individual’s name confidential.
This is important for a number of reasons:
- Giving notice of a person’s name may be of little value for residents if the sick person has already left the building (to go to the hospital or to go into quarantine somewhere else).
- If a person’s identity is revealed, it is possible that harmful or threatening actions may be taken against him or her. If any such actions occur, other occupants may be less inclined to inform the board if they test positive.
- If other persons who test positive are made afraid or are unwilling to come forward, the board may condemn itself to not knowing the full extent of the outbreak in the association, except perhaps by rumor.
Communicate steps taken to reduce risk
To the extent possible, the board should communicate actions it has and will take to sanitize the common elements which may have been touched by the person who has tested positive. The more comprehensive the work done to address the situation, the more confidence other owners and occupants may have that they are not at risk — or that the risk has been reduced.
Because delivery persons, contractors and others who visit the building may not know of the COVID-positive situation, boards should consider posting a notice that someone in the building has tested positive. At the very least, this will give these individuals the ability to decide for themselves about additional steps they need to take to protect themselves.
Seek advice from counsel
Just as each association is different, condo declarations and board responsibilities also vary.
Expert advice is the key to reducing risk. Some associations are polling the ownership about whether or not the name of a person who has tested positive should be revealed. This is exactly the wrong way to answer that question.
For the most part, a person who tests positive will be very conscious of the situation and the effect it could have on others. It is imperative that the board respects the individual’s privacy in this difficult time.
At the same time, the board must take steps to keep others in the association as safe as possible. It can be a fine line to walk, and each board should seek advice tailored to its needs and situation from an attorney who is well-versed with the association.
Mark Rosenbaum has represented condominium and common interest community (townhome) associations for more than 35 years. He advises associations on all legal issues relating to association living, from formation to day-to-day operational issues.