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Perspectives

Cooperatives and Condominiums Continue to Deal With the Pandemic

All of us in New York and around the world continue to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to the tragic loss of life and the many people who have become ill, everyone is also affected by the ongoing economic disruption. Nonessential businesses continue to be closed. Even essential businesses allowed to remain open must allow employees to work from home where feasible and must require employees and others on-premises to practice social distancing. At this writing, the state of emergency in New York State has been extended through May 15, 2020. At least with regard to the urban and suburban parts of the state, further extensions are anticipated, with reopening to be subject to criteria established by the Governor.

As discussed in our March, April, and mid-April newsletters, cooperative and condominium boards have been on the front lines of the pandemic, both in dealing with their shareholders or unit owners and as employers. Every board of directors or board of managers has made decisions and set policies or procedures addressing the implications of the Governor’s executive orders and the health emergency, in areas such as access to the building, residents’ interactions with staff, closure or limited use of common areas, and postponing annual meetings.

Boards and management should seek to ensure continued compliance with executive orders and best practices, especially since many people may naturally tend to relax their level of vigilance or compliance as time goes on. For example, everyone in public areas of the building, particularly in smaller spaces such as elevators or when dealing with building employees, should now be wearing a mask covering the individual’s nose and mouth. Enhanced sanitation protocols, such as regular cleaning of surfaces and making hand sanitizer available, should continue for the foreseeable future.

In time, boards will have to decide when and to what extent to relax some of the current restrictions, such as by reopening amenity spaces or allowing authorized outsiders into the building again. No one knows yet when “normal life” will resume in New York City, but we can be sure that it will be a gradual process. Boards should be guided by updates from the health authorities and should continue to consult with their legal counsel and managing agents as issues arise. 

Most construction activity in New York continues to be shut down. Many government offices also are operating on a limited basis, with employees working primarily from home. The New York State court system is among the many institutions whose operations have been dramatically affected. The state courts are currently not accepting new civil cases for filing, except for certain narrow categories of essential matters. 

            As previously discussed in our newsletters, several government programs have been created to assist businesses and individuals in surviving the financial impact of the crisis. Uncertainty continues to exist concerning whether cooperatives and condominiums are eligible for some of these programs and what degree of financial hardship must be shown to be eligible. Buildings that cannot quality for the best-known programs may still benefit from other provisions of the new laws, such as certain tax changes. Some previously announced programs have run out of funding, but new programs have been announced, including a small business loan program to be funded by the New York State pension system. All boards should be consulting with their professionals to review what benefits may be available to them based on their specific circumstances.