Control Messaging to Association Members and Occupants: How Managers and Boards Can Respond to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Concerns

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As of Wednesday, March 11th, 2020, the World Health Organization has declared Coronavirus (or COVID-19) to be a “pandemic,” which effectively means that the disease is spreading rapidly through different parts of the world. This new label will inevitably lead to questions of boards and managers as to what the association is doing to stop, prevent, or control the spread of the illness. Below is a list of items that all property managers and board members should bear in mind going forward:

1. Neither the board members nor manager are health care professionals – As unit owners and occupants look for answers, we recommend that the board and manager remind them that local, state and federal authorities (such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) are the best source of information, not the manager or board. Besides providing a list of precautions the Association may be taking (such as directing maintenance staff to wipe down elevator buttons, door handles, etc.), or detailing events that the association may cancel in the board’s discretion (such as meetings, etc.), the association need not provide any further information.

2. Employees – If an association has employees, we recommend the board / manager contact its attorney to discuss the best options for dealing with suspected illness or sick-leave issues related to on-site staff and employees.

3. Meeting Cancellations – Unless and until local, state or federal officials recommend individuals refrain from attending public events (such as board and owner meetings), it is entirely within the board’s discretion whether or not to cancel planned in-person meetings. Certainly, to the extent meetings can be held virtually (via phone), the board may consider doing so. Bear in mind that owners must be provided the option to call-in and “attend” the virtual meetings to ensure that they remain “open” pursuant to statute. Check with your attorney to ensure compliance with such requirements and understand how associations may continue to do business in a safe and legal manner in light of public health and safety concerns.

4. Ensure Messaging is Compliant with the Fair Housing Act – Board and managers must be sure that messages from the association related to the Coronavirus do not unintentionally (or intentionally) discriminate against owners, tenants, occupants, or employees based on race, color, national origin, familial status, etc. Pandemic or no, the Fair Housing Act, Illinois Human Rights Act and other state and local laws still apply, and violations can result in lawsuits.

The Coronavirus issue may well be resolved in due course, but a discrimination lawsuit against an association based on poorly-drafted communications can result in a lawsuit that could last years.

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