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Perspectives

The Challenges of Reopening

On June 4, 2020, New York City officials reported no confirmed deaths attributed to the coronavirus, for the first time since the crisis began.  Although the final tallies will increase due to reporting lags, daily reports have remained low over the past week. New York City’s eventual success in stemming the spread of the coronavirus has been a credit to New Yorkers’ compliance with the lockdown measures imposed three months ago.

Those lockdown measures were always meant to be only a “pause,” and now a new phase of New York City’s response to the coronavirus has begun. On June 8, 2020, the five boroughs of New York City entered “Phase One” of the Governor’s “New York Forward” phased program to reopen the economy. The Phase One designation means that activities such as construction and manufacturing were allowed to resume. Non-essential retail was also allowed to resume, but limited to curbside pickup and delivery. New York City is the last part of the State that is still in Phase One, after the Hudson Valley and Long Island entered Phase Two last week.

If the partial reopening under Phase One does not cause a spike in coronavirus cases, it is hoped that New York City will enter Phase Two in late June or early July. When Phase Two begins, businesses such as professional and real estate offices will be allowed to reopen, subject to limitations on occupancy and social distancing. In-store retail operation and some outdoor restaurant dining will also be allowed. It is too soon to tell when progress to Phases Three and Four and a full reopening will occur.

Before reopening, employers are required to prepare a Safety Plan designed to reduce the spread of the virus in the workplace. Employers should consult with counsel to develop a Safety Plan appropriate for their business. The plan should cover topics such as maintaining physical distance between employees and customers or clients, use of masks when distances cannot be maintained, and regular sanitization of surfaces, among many other things. When completed, the Safety Plan does not need to be filed with any government agency, but must be complied with and a copy must be retained in the employer’s records.

Co-op and condo boards will also need to revisit their initial emergency lockdown protocols. Some elements of “normal life” will probably return in some form, such as apartment showings, move-ins and move-outs, and visits to the building by personnel such as housekeepers or nannies. However, the need for measures to protect residents and employees will remain for the foreseeable future, not least because many co-ops and condos have significant elderly populations that are particularly at risk from the virus.

The Real Estate Board of New York, 32BJ SEIU, and the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations have jointly issued a set of “comprehensive safety and health guidelines for … residential buildings in New York City, including multifamily rentals, cooperatives and condominiums, as the City enters Phase One and prepares for Phase Two of New York Forward.” These can be found at https://rebny.com/content/rebny/en/newsroom/press-releases/2020_Press_Releases/REBNY_32BJ_RAB_Issue_Joint_Industrywide_Guidelines_for_Safety_in_MarketRate_Residential_Buildings_as_New_York_City_Begins_NY_Forward.html

Boards should continue to properly document their reopening decisions as they are made and to consult with their legal counsel and other professional advisors concerning their rights and obligations to their shareholders or unit owners, other residents, and employees.