Prepared by the firm of Gallet Dreyer & Berkey, LLP
Owners of multi-family buildings, boards of condominiums and cooperatives and their managing agents should be aware of their legal obligations that arise from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). In general, owners, board members and managing agents must do what a reasonably prudent person would do when faced with a similar problem. The federal, state and city governments and their agencies are recommending procedures to be followed to minimize health risks to the public and to employees, to deal with individuals infected with the COVID-19 virus, and to be followed by those having come into close contact with such individuals. Deviating significantly from these standards can result in potential claims.
The Center for Disease Control (the “CDC”) maintains that a majority of people have a low risk of being exposed to the COVID-19 virus. The CDC detailed that the following individuals are at an elevated risk of exposure to COVID-19:
- Within a community where COVID-19 has been reported;
- Healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19;
- Close contacts of persons with COVID-19; and
- Travelers returning from areas where community spread is occurring.
New York State has declared a state of emergency due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in our state. Until we are advised that the virus is under control and the state of emergency has been ended, we believe that all multi-family buildings and managing agents are expected to implement reasonable procedures and protocols in order to mitigate risks and potential claims. We recommend that the following steps be taken in most situations.
I. Standard Protocols for keeping Buildings, Building Staff and Residents Safe
A. Building and Resident Safety
- Building staff should keep all common areas, furniture and equipment sanitized with the use of an EPA approved disinfectant (must contain at least 70% alcohol). Common areas may include lobbies, elevators, mail rooms, playrooms, laundry rooms, bathrooms and gyms, and common furniture and equipment located therein. Door handles, light switches, elevator buttons, and other commonly touched areas should be disinfected regularly.
- Building staff should ask all contractors, vendors and delivery persons who enter through the service door to wash their hands and any guests or delivery persons entering through the lobby to cleanse their hands at the hand sanitizer dispensers in the lobby before proceeding further into the building.
- Provide hand sanitizer dispensers (must contain at least 60% alcohol) and disinfecting wipes for use by building staff, residents and visitors in the lobby, service entrance and in areas where people congregate in the building.
- Ensure there is always soap and paper towels in bathrooms, that all sinks are in good repair and post reminder instructions for 20-second hand washing.
- Post flyers and information in readily accessible areas for all the residents and employees to see information on COVID-19. Find links below.
- Encourage all persons exhibiting symptoms of infection to seek medical care, follow their doctor’s orders, and report themselves to the CDC and local health department.
- Encourage all persons who have come in close contact with an infected person to self-quarantine in their home for at least 14 days.
B. Building Staff Safety
- Building staff should wear and use appropriate personal protective equipment, such as gloves, according to existing policies and procedures, as well as following label directions for cleaning products.
- Encourage staff when entering individual homes to inquire with residents if they are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 and if they have traveled to high-risk areas. If the resident answers yes to either of these questions, and the visit may be postponed, it is encouraged that the staff postpone the visit. If that is impossible, the resident should remain in a different room during the visit with the door closed, if possible, wear a face mask, and the employees should immediately wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use an approved alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Require building staff to stay home if they are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
- Implement a course of action for prompt identification and isolation of infected individuals.
- Ensure there are face masks, hand sanitizers, soap and sanitized towels readily available for all staff.
- Employers must comply with the Occupational Safety and Hazard guidelines (“OSHA”) and provide a place of employment free from recognized hazards which may cause death and harm. Please see link at end of document.
II. Procedures if you Suspect an Infected Individual in the Building
- Buildings may temporarily suspend services to public areas like gyms and conference rooms.
- Attempt to keep the names of suspected infected individuals confidential from other residents but inform all building staff that may come into contact with that individual.
- The staff should inform management of the name and address of each person suspected of being infected so management can inform the CDC and local health officials.
- Direct the building staff not to come into contact with the suspected infected or quarantined individual without following the above protocols, i.e. request the suspected individual to exit the room, wear protective face mask and properly sanitize after the visit.
- Advise all infected or quarantined persons that deliveries will be left outside the apartment door, that the delivery (or staff) person will ring the doorbell to advise of the delivery and will depart immediately without interacting with such person.
- Report to the CDC and to the city, county or district health officer any suspected infected individual who is not remaining quarantined.
III. Links for Further Guidance
CDC – Coronavirus Summary
NYC – Guidance and Safety Tips – Recommended to Post for Residents and Employees to see
NYC – Flyer – Recommended to Post for Residents and Employees to see
CDC – Home Cleaning and Disinfection
NYC – Disinfection Guidance for Commercial and Residential Property
OSHA Guidelines for Employers