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Should My Community Close Its Common Areas Due to COVID-19?

David Wilson

With everyone on high alert
because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) we get a number of questions every day
about how community associations (HOAs and condos) should react and what should
be done.  One of the questions we’ve
received a lot lately is whether the association should close its common
areas.  The answer, as with most legal
things, is “it depends.” 

First, most community
associations are nonprofit corporations and are obligated to do whatever any
state or local government or health department has said should be done.  For a great discussion on general steps your
community should take to deal with coronavirus concerns, read this
by Jim Slaughter, who has authored several articles in the past few

What All Communities Can Do

As we’ve heard from multiple
sources already, there are certain steps that all communities can probably take
with their common areas to help:

  • The association should certainly cancel or
    postpone organized events scheduled for the common areas. 
  • Install sanitizer or hand wipe dispensers or
    make them available for the use of owners and their guests
  • Disinfecting high traffic areas, more extensive
    cleaning, additional wiping and sanitizing of common area surfaces
  • For a good discussion of what to do with your
    community’s meetings, read Jim Slaughter’s earlier
    article on holding online meetings and electronic voting

Here are at least some of the factors that your community board of directors may consider when thinking about possibly closing common areas or amenity areas:

Depends on What Amenities You Have

Different communities have different
common areas and amenities.  Some might
make a lot of sense to close—like pools or small gyms where it is more likely
that people will be in close contact with each other, or are in physical
contact with things someone else was just using (we normally are hesitant to
use that weight bench right after someone else got done anyway, but now we’ve
got an added excuse!).  Some communities
have amenities where food is served, like a coffee shop or fitness store
attached to a gym.  Other communities
might have nothing more than a large park or field.  It might make less sense to close those since
it is less likely that people will be in close proximity.  Other amenities could include a clubhouse,
workout rooms, playgrounds, dog parks, running or walking trails, tennis
courts, etc.

The Type of Community Makes a Difference

Townhomes and especially certain
condominiums are designed to put people in closer proximity to each other.  In some communities owners may share
hallways, elevators, or other entry or lobby areas.  So it may not be possible to avoid areas
where other folks are.  In single family
communities we don’t run into each other as often.


Practically speaking, even if a board
makes a decision to close the common elements, it may not be possible to
physically prevent people from using some of the common areas.  Certainly we may be able to lock or secure
doors to some amenities, but for others—like a park—preventing access is
harder.  Boards may be concerned about
being heavy-handed and may have limited resources available to actually prevent
access to some amenities.

Owners Primarily Responsible

It is important to remember that
in a homeowners association or condominium, each owner is primarily responsible
for their own health and safety.  While
the board of directors should certainly take steps to comply with health
professionals’ advice, protecting the health of community members is beyond the
scope of what homeowners associations are responsible for.  It is simply not a part of what community
associations are designed to do.  And,
unlike legal responsibility in a court case, accurately determining the cause
of sickness is often just guesswork—there may be no way to know for sure how a
person got sick.  Individuals must
exercise caution to take medical professionals’ advice on limiting contact,
keeping distance from others, washing hands and sanitizing frequently, not
touching your face, covering sneezes, etc.

Boards should seek the opinion of
medical, legal, and insurance professionals to better understand the parameters
of how making this decision impacts their association.  For instance, does the Association’s
Directors & Officers (D&O) policy contain exclusions for bacteria and
viruses—most do.

No matter how much caution any community exercises it may not be possible to fully insulate from the virus concerns we’re experiencing now.    Any board of directors should keep itself aware of the changing conditions and best practices to reduce the possibility of transmitting disease and exercise its best business judgment. 

Black, Slaughter & Black attorneys are licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina.  For specific questions about your community, reach out to one of our community association attorneys.

Author: David Wilson
Articles have been Reprinted with permission from Black, Slaughter, Black.

* These articles and related content on this website are provided without warranty of any kind and in no way constitute or provide legal advice. You are advised to contact an attorney specializing in Association Management for legal advice related to your specific issue and community. Some articles are provided by thrid parties and online services. Display of these articles does in no way endorse the products or services of Community Association Management by the author(s).