As social-distancing restrictions are eased and more businesses are re-opening throughout California, daily life is slowly beginning to inch back toward normal. Most homeowners have been cooped up indoors and/or working from home for several months, so naturally there is pent up excitement to re-connect with friends and family and spend more time outdoors.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that the pandemic is still among us. Though life might appear to be more normal on the surface, safety is still a consideration for any homeowners association.
Keystone hosted a board seminar discussing how HOAs can responsibly manage newly-lifted restrictions. Here are some suggestions to navigate the “re-opening” of your community while taking measures to protect homeowners.
Be aware of the risks
Because the pandemic is still happening, HOAs must carefully weigh the risks of allowing access to social spaces like clubhouses, pools, sports complexes, etc. If the association is not able to effectively control social distancing and mitigate the spread of viruses, the HOA faces risk of liability. Boards should discuss all risks with the association’s legal counsel and property manager to get a clearer sense of what safety measures can be implemented to safeguard the community and its residents.
Look to city, county, state and CDC guidelines
Health and municipal authorities are keeping a close eye on public safety while weighing the need to open businesses and other social spaces. Look to their recommendations for frequent guidance. Although these guidelines change often, your community association management company and legal counsel will help you better understand the guidelines that apply to HOAs and how you can put these recommendations and restrictions into practice.
It’s important to control crowds in common areas, which may become a challenge as eager residents rush to use amenities. Consider limitations on number of residents using common area spaces, creating a reservation system, or limiting usage to certain hours or days of the week.
Post basic hygiene signs in areas like restrooms or entryways reminding people to wash their hands for at least twenty seconds, use masks, etc. Some HOAs are also posting signs warning of the serious, potentially life-threatening risk of disease upon using facilities. Look to Governor-issued orders or the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for language guidelines. Your community manager can help you draft and print new signs.
Develop written plans
Begin working immediately on plans detailing how facilities will open and how each will be maintained once it’s opened. This will include looking closely at the plan for cleaning/disinfecting, traffic flow patterns, furniture placement and more. This should be a working document that is reviewed and updated frequently. Start with highest-priority areas first.
Take a phased approach
Assess relative risks of common areas – low, medium, or high risk – and develop a plan for re-opening each. Some areas may still pose risks at the moment (ex. exercise facilities) while others can be safely re-opened immediately (ex. hiking trails). Follow models set by your county and city. Consider limiting hours and capacity until homeowners learn the new rules and become comfortable socializing while keeping safe.
Update how common areas are used
Establish new rules for how people move through spaces. Depending on the space, safe re-opening may require an increase in janitorial staff, the installation of hand sanitizer stations or prompting users to self-regulate and take a more active role in sanitation. Stage furnishings to promote social distancing or consider removing furniture if the association doesn’t have resources to clean it adequately. For example, you may remove lounge chairs and encourage homeowners to bring their own.
Though HOA boards are working diligently, homeowners may become anxious if they are kept in the dark. Now, more than ever, we advise frequent communication. Share with the membership exactly what you’re doing and where you are in the process. If there are no updates, share that, too. Let your membership know that the board is continually keeping their health and safety as top priority while monitoring safety protocols. Actively work with professional counsel and your community association management company to draft re-opening plans while mitigating risk to the HOA.
Don’t scrap all your events
During times like this, it’s important to maintain a strong sense of connection between neighbors. Don’t let community-building initiatives fall by the wayside. One positive side-effect of the pandemic is that it has challenged many of us to think outside the box. There are a variety of innovative ways that neighbors can connect whether virtually or outdoors with proper social distancing protocols in place. As vaccinations are now readily available, the possibility of hosting small gatherings of vaccinated members may be on the horizon in the coming months. This will require careful review of fluctuating safety guidelines, flexibility, and patience
Seek input from homeowners
A good idea can come from anywhere. Be sure to solicit input and suggestions from homeowners. They, too, have been considering how their community will look in the coming months and share what they have missed the most about how their community used to socialize. Share good suggestions with your community manager and legal counsel, then incorporate them into your re-opening plan.
Nothing is etched in stone
Guidelines, suggestions, protocols and laws are changing frequently. What seems like a sure thing today may end up changing next month. Remain flexible. Protecting homeowners may require rolling back to a previous tier of restrictions should re-opening efforts prove to be done too hastily. It’s important to communicate this “rolling model” to homeowners, so they’ll understand the reasoning if things do change.
Although these are truly unprecedented times, at Keystone, we’re on a mission to help you reconnect to where you live. Things have looked differently over the past year but staying connected to your neighbors and enjoying your community is not impossible. It simply requires a bit more creativity and planning.