Even as businesses, schools, and even entire economies shut down at the start of the coronavirus pandemic last year, the task of running residential buildings and communities never ceased. In fact, it could even be argued that as people were more or less confined to their homes for weeks and months, the decisions made by co-op, condo, and HOA boards and managers had even more impact on their communities than in the Before Times.
Now that widespread vaccine distribution and a federal administration that takes the matter seriously is beginning to flatten and even ebb transmission of the virus in many parts of the country, lawmakers (who themselves were sidelined for a time last spring) are starting to put legislation on the books relating to—or motivated by—COVID-19 and its effects on lives and livelihoods.
In addition to the Herculean effort to achieve COVID immunity through mass vaccination, another type of COVID immunity is being sought by state legislatures in the interest of community association leaders: immunity from liability for COVID-related claims.
In the New Jersey Assembly, according to community association lawyers from the Morristown office of law firm Becker & Poliakoff, there is pending legislation in the Garden State “that would, essentially, offer community associations immunity from legal action regarding any illness, injury, or death from or related to exposure to or transmission of COVID-19 on the premises of a planned real estate development.”
This bill, supported by CAI New Jersey’s Legislative Action Committee, arose from the actions—not all of them popular—that boards and property managers had to take to mitigate the spread of coronavirus on their properties and through their communities. Closure of amenities, mandatory masking and social-distancing rules, suspension of community activities, and strict policies related to elevator capacity, outside guests, and renovations were some of the measures instituted to slow or stop the viral spread in housing communities. But these actions were met with resistance from residents in some cases, and even the threat of litigation. Equally concerned about being sued if they did not enact such measures and a resident became infected on the property, boards and managers found themselves in very tricky legal waters.