By Aaron Shmulewitz
March 13, 2020
The recent Covid-19 outbreak has impacted residential housing, including New York City co-ops and condominiums. In response to questions raised by Boards and managing agents, the following general guidelines may prove helpful. Having said that, please recognize that this is an unprecedented situation that is very fluid and changing constantly. This is not intended as legal advice for every specific situation; Boards and managing agents should feel free to consult us with regard to those.
A cooperative or condominium has the right to request travel information from residents returning from trips, but has no legal right to compel the giving of such information.
A cooperative or condominium can recommend that a returning resident be tested, or observe other protocols, but cannot compel it.
If a resident (whether returning from travel, or not) tests positive, or otherwise exhibits symptoms, the cooperative or condominium can request or recommend that the resident take appropriate measures including self-quarantining in his/her apartment, but cannot compel or enforce it.
If the cooperative or condominium has actual knowledge that a resident has tested positive and is supposed to be quarantined but is ignoring the quarantine for non-emergency reasons, management should report the matter to 311 or 311.gov.
The Board and management must balance the privacy rights of an individual resident who has tested positive against the rights of other residents to know who is involved. Absent an actual risk to public health, our advice is that a Board cannot divulge the name or apartment number of the resident who has tested positive. We would not even recommend that that resident’s floor be divulged (i.e., NO–“a resident on the fourth floor has tested positive”).
However, in the unlikely event that a resident who is known to have tested positive is creating an actual risk to public health (e.g., using an extreme example, breaking and entering into, and using, a closed gym; coughing openly in public, etc.), divulging the person’s apartment number might be warranted. In such an extremely unlikely event, please consult us for further direction.
To the extent that a building has any common amenities or facilities (like a gym, pool or exercise room), the Board can (and probably should) direct that it be closed immediately.
The cooperative or condominium can direct that visitors to apartments, including delivery persons, caregivers, household employees, dog walkers, etc., be met in the lobby and accompanied upstairs by the resident being visited. However: (i) if such a visitor appears when the resident is not present (like a house cleaner or dog walker), such a requirement might wreak havoc in that household, creating hostile pushback to the Board and management, and (ii) care should be taken to apply any such policy uniformly and without regard to a visitor’s ethnic appearance, so as to avoid allegations of discrimination. Obviously, a resident who has tested positive should not be required to come down to meet such a visitor; alternate arrangements should be made in such a case.
Boards and management should realize that all such measures are primarily an effort at common sense management, in light of the facts that very little is known of the long-term impact of Covid-19, and that the current public and governmental reaction did not occur for prior brushes with nature, like Zika, SARS, MERS, swine flu, etc. We deem this to be essentially a common-sense effort to manage fear.