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Community Associations and COVID-19, One Year Later. We’ve reacted, adapted, and carried on . . . now it’s time to reopen

It’s been more than a year since the global COVID-19 pandemic upended life as we knew it. Despite the seismic challenges, the estimated that 60 percent of Floridians who live in a condominium, homeowners’ association or co-op, have reacted, adapted and carried on, showing resilience through these most challenging times.

In March 2020, Florida Governor Ron Desantis issued Executive Order Number 20-244 declaring a state of emergency in the State of Florida. The initial stay at home order disproportionately affected community associations, where residents live in relatively close quarters to their neighbors. Shared common areas such as lobbies and elevators only compounded fears and anxieties.

At the outset, we were faced with a myriad of operational questions and dilemmas.  Could property access be denied or restricted? What cleaning protocols needed to be put in place?  How should an association respond to someone testing positive?  Could the association be liable?

Eisinger Law has been and continues to be there for our clients every step of the way. Our attorneys guide community associations’ Board of Directors and Property Managers through an ever-changing and complex labyrinth of interpreting local, county and state directives and providing counsel as to how to best comply.

“At the on-set of the pandemic our attorneys created an Emergency COVID-19 Hotline to guide Florida residents through complex questions relating to risk, liabilities and proper protocols,” said Alessandra Stivelman, partner at Eisinger Law. “While our firm was working remotely, we quickly learned everything we needed to know about the usage of common area and amenities, how to hold a Board meeting or an election safely, enforce social distancing, disclosure of medical conditions for containment, fiduciary duties, and much more.”

Our attorneys regularly counsel clients on the variations, nuances and enforceability of county vs. state orders. For instance, Broward County Emergency Order 2020-29 (“BCEO 2020-29”), issued on December 16, 2020 in contrast to the Governor’s Order 20-244 which preempted local government from taking actions with respect to closures and capacity limitations.

“On a local level, municipalities can establish more stringent standards.  However, keep in mind that since the Governor’s order takes precedence, more rigorous requirements may not necessarily be enforceable by the municipality,” said Carolina Sznajderman Sheir, partner at Eisinger Law.  “Nonetheless, associations have the ability to impose more stringent requirements, provided they are reasonable.  Overall, we always stress the importance of maintaining “normal” operations, while making tweaks to accommodate the developments that sometimes appear to change on a minute-by-minute basis.”

On March 29, 2021 Governor DeSantis signed CS/SB 72 – Civil Liability for Damages Relating to COVID-19 into law. The bill provides crucial liability protection to individuals, businesses (such as community associations), educational institutions, religious organizations, and health care providers for liability claims related to COVID-19. The new law raises the legal standard and provides defendants with immunity if they follow government-issued safety guidelines.

As vaccinations roll out and restrictions begin to loosen somewhat, the fact is the global pandemic is not over and surges in positivity rates continue to fluctuate. Despite the progress we’ve made it is important to note there are still guidelines that should be followed for the protection of the health, safety and welfare of community associations and its residents.   As we begin to consider the reopening of amenities and lifting of restrictions in our communities, it is important to check with your local county and/or municipality for the latest Emergency Orders and guidance.

Tracking local and state actions, or overriding federal actions, on everything from evictions and foreclosures is a tangle of complexities emanating from city, county and state emergency declarations and executive orders. Ascertaining exactly where the expected passage of Florida’s new COVID liability law will interface with the Biden Administration’s new National Pandemic Response Plan remains to be seen. Throughout the arduous process, Eisinger Law will be following these issues closely and provide updates to our more than 850 Florida community association clients.

Carolina Sznajderman Sheir is a partner at Eisinger Law and is an AV-rated attorney. Her practice focuses on real estate law, community association law, commercial litigation and developer representation.  She can be reached at csheir@eisingerlaw.com or 954-894-8000 ext. 238.

Alessandra Stivelman is a partner at Eisinger Law, Board Certified Specialist in Condominium and Planned Development Law and is an AV-rated attorney. She focuses her practice on community association and real estate law and can be reached at astivelman@eisingerlaw.com or 954-894-8000 ext. 304.

Eisinger Law is a full-service Florida law firm focusing on community association law, real estate law, developer representation, commercial litigation, corporate law, insurance law and estate planning. For more info visit eisingerlaw.com