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Boards Face Decisions as New York Continues to Reopen

Last year, as New York faced the unexpected and devastating onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, cooperative and condominium boards had to take painful steps to mitigate the public health emergency and to comply with a complex body of state and city emergency orders. More than one year later, although the pandemic is by no means over, the development and distribution of effective vaccines have allowed New Yorkers to return more closely to normal life. Within recent weeks, restaurants have been allowed to operate at full capacity, fans have resumed attending professional sporting events, and Broadway shows have announced they will reopen beginning in the fall.

Co-ops and condos have also been impacted. Based on the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and updates to the Governor’s executive orders, mask-wearing mandates have been eased. These reflect that it is no longer considered necessary for fully vaccinated individuals to wear a mask outdoors or even in many indoor settings, with certain exceptions including medical facilities, hospitals, and schools. Based on this guidance, some boards have also considered relaxing mask requirements for residents and visitors in common areas of their buildings. However, there is no requirement that boards must ease mask requirements for residents, and a board may wish to retain them at this stage, at least in areas such as elevators and hallways. No matter what the written policy may be, a building has no way of distinguishing between vaccinated and unvaccinated people, so removing the mask requirement for vaccinated residents could have the practical effect of removing it for all. In addition, many buildings are continuing to require that employees continue to wear masks, especially when some of the employees have thus far declined to be vaccinated.

By this time, most boards have lifted some of the restrictions that were imposed last year on visitors, including by allowing in-person showings of apartments, and on renovations or alterations in units, typically subject to compliance with an approved safety plan. Some buildings have also started allowing food and other delivery persons to resume making deliveries directly to apartments, while others still require residents to go down to the lobby to pick up their deliveries. Almost all annual meetings in 2021 have continued to be held virtually, although it remains to be seen whether the legislation authorizing this practice will be extended beyond the end of this year. Gyms and fitness centers can now operate at 100% capacity, but management should ensure that these spaces are sufficiently well-ventilated for the capacity permitted, and a six-foot social distance between machines or stations should still be maintained. Boards and managing agents with questions about their rights and responsibilities as conditions continue to evolve should consult with their attorneys.