The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down and has changed the way that we go about our daily lives. Current public health recommendations include requirements for self-isolation, restrictions on gatherings, and physical distancing. In apartment-style condominium buildings, these recommendations are creating unique challenges and raising several issues that condominium corporations and boards of directors should be considering.
Obligations of Condominium Corporations and Boards of Directors
The specific obligations and duties of a condo corporation and its board will depend, in part, on that condominium’s bylaws. However, all condo corporations and boards are responsible for the control and management of the common property under Alberta’s Condominium Property Act. This extends to ensuring that common areas are maintained in a manner that minimizes risk to the health and safety of occupants, staff, contractors and invitees.
To protect the health and safety of occupants and invitees, condo corporations, through their board of directors, can establish new rules that take effect immediately when addressing an emergency or safety concern. COVID-19 certainly qualifies as both. Condo corporations are still required to properly notify all occupants and owners of any new rules in writing, and by posting throughout the common areas of the condominium.
Condo boards need to consider what specific obligations they owe to the owners and occupants in their building, and move to introduce updated protocols and rules to minimize the risk to occupants. If this has not already occurred, condo boards should strongly consider convening an emergency meeting, by video or teleconferencing, to identify issues they are already facing as a result of COVID-19, and discussing strategies to minimize this risk. Condo boards should make and implement any new rules on the basis of the public health and safety recommendations, and in consideration of the issues specific to their properties, while also adhering to all public health orders and recommendations that have been made.
Key Considerations in Addressing Issues and Minimizing Risks
All unit owners and occupants have the right to use the common areas of a condominium for access to and from their units, and this right cannot be restricted. This needs to be kept in mind when considering new protocols and rules. While movements throughout the common areas can and should be discouraged during this pandemic, and restricted up to a point, all occupants will continue to require access.
When setting new rules and policies, condo boards should consider approaches that will minimize risk to occupants, staff and invitees as much as possible while also still being reasonable in terms of implementation and adherence. Condo boards will want to ensure that all occupants comply with self-isolation and other public health orders in order to avoid risk to anyone else on the property. In doing so, they also need to ensure that newly implemented rules and protocols contain certain accommodations so that individuals can comply with public health orders.
There are a variety of issues that condo corporations and boards need to consider when first tackling their COVID-19 approach. Some immediate items to address include the following:
- Posting educational information, public health recommendations, building rules, and requests to respect physical distancing recommendations throughout the common areas of the condominium, as well as providing copies to each unit within the building;
- Reviewing and updating common area cleaning procedures;
- Closure of all condominium amenities, such as fitness centres, meeting rooms, and pools;
- Restricting movement of occupants and invitees in the common areas to adhere to physical distancing requirements;
- Use of staff or volunteers to assist occupants who may require additional assistance due to self-isolation or other personal matters; and
- Compiling a list of occupants who have disclosed a positive COVID-19 test, or who have been tested and are awaiting results, for use in the event of an emergency or evacuation of the building.
It is important to note that condo corporations can be held liable for the actions of any volunteers acting on their behalf. As such, condo boards must ensure that all staff and volunteers are properly informed of, and adhere to, all public health recommendations, including physical distancing requirements, proper handling of parcels, garbage and other items, and proper hand-washing techniques.
COVID-19 Positive Occupants
While condo boards can ask occupants to disclose their COVID-19 test results, there is no requirement to disclose this information. Condo corporations and boards must continue to comply with all privacy and access to information laws in Alberta, even during the pandemic.
Where an occupant has disclosed that they have tested positive for COVID-19, condo boards should consider a telephone discussion with the occupant regarding current public health orders and recommendations, as well building-specific self-isolation rules and protocols. This will ensure that the occupant knows what is expected of them during their self-isolation period. Having this discussion will also give the condo board the ability to identify any accommodations that the occupant may require during their self-isolation, such as receiving deliveries and groceries, garbage disposal and pet care.
Current public health recommendations require that individuals undergoing self-isolation not leave their individual units, even to use common use facilities, for the duration of their isolation. As building occupants will need to dispose of their garbage and potentially receive grocery and other deliveries, condo boards should consider different accommodations for these individuals to ensure that they are not required to leave their units for any reason.
Condo boards should also consider implementing procedures for situations where an individual is required to leave their unit to seek medical care. This could include a request that individuals notify condominium staff of any appointments and their expected departure and return times, so staff can take proper precautions to practice physical distancing and thoroughly clean/disinfect common areas, as required.
Other occupants and owners should be informed of any positive or probable cases of COVID-19 in the building. While privacy laws prevent condo corporations and boards from disclosing personal information about an occupant who is sick, these notices give boards the opportunity to notify the building of all new rules and protocols should an occupant become ill, and further remind all occupants of current public health recommendations and requirements to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
In the event that problems arise with an occupant not adhering to self-isolation requirements by accessing
and using common areas within the building, the condo board can notify health authorities of the violation. Public health order violations can be reported to Alberta Environmental Public Health at www.alberta.ca/covid19.
Visitors, Deliveries and Couriers
Extra precautions need to be taken when dealing with non-occupants visiting the building. These can include notices on all entrances requesting that individuals not enter the building if they are COVID-19 positive, or are otherwise feeling ill. Condo corporations can additionally restrict access to the building for all non-occupants and non-owners, within reason. As current public health orders restrict gatherings of 15 people or more, condominium amenities or common areas should be closed and not used for any form of gathering.
Courier and delivery services are vitally important to occupants during this time, particularly to individuals who are vulnerable or otherwise considered high-risk, and those who are self-isolating. There are several approaches that condo boards can take with deliveries. First, the board can allow all couriers access to the building to drop deliveries at each unit individually. Alternatively, condo boards can allow for all parcels and deliveries to be left with a specified staff member. Those parcels can then either be retrieved by occupants, or delivered to each unit by the staff member. It must be stressed that should a condo board prefer occupants to retrieve their packages from a centralized location, accommodations will need to be made for occupants who are high-risk, ill or otherwise self-isolating, which should include the option of delivery to that occupant’s unit.
Staff members who are tasked with accepting and delivering parcels should follow proper hygiene protocols, including sanitizing packages prior to handling, frequently washing their hands, and washing their clothing and showering at the end of their shift.
Emergency Repairs and Access to Trades
At this time, it is strongly recommended that all non-urgent building work and maintenance be postponed for the time being, to help protect the safety of all occupants, staff and workers. Unfortunately, emergencies will continue to happen during this pandemic. With the majority of us spending more time at home, such events may event increase. As a result, building repairs and emergency remediation will still need to occur, especially where there is a potential risk to the safety of the public, occupants and staff.
In cases where urgent building repairs need to be conducted, all physical distancing measures and condominium rules and protocols should be strictly adhered to by tradespeople who are conducting the repairs. This includes working a minimum of two (2) metres apart, frequent hand-washing and no entering the building if sick or otherwise feeling unwell.
Condo Fees and Other Financial Obligations of Unit Owners
Given current financial hardships that many are facing as a result of COVID-19, there is the potential that some condo owners may not be in a position to pay their condo fees, insurance deductibles, and other financial obligations.
Practically speaking, the best approach at this time would be for condo boards to try and arrange a payment plan with the owner, with repayment to take place over a reasonable period of time. The terms of this repayment plan should be reasonable for both the condo corporation and the owner. Being reasonable in the circumstances will help encourage repayment of all outstanding fees sooner rather than later.
However, if a payment plan cannot be agreed on, the condo corporation does have the right to register a caveat on the owner’s unit and alert the mortgagee on title. This will allow for the mortgagee to pay all outstanding fees and add those amounts to the owner’s mortgage. In situations where legal action is commenced, it may be possible for the condo corporation to seek full indemnity legal costs from the owner. This will depend on the specific bylaws of the condominium.
As yet, there has been no suspension of limitations periods in which a corporation must commence legal action against a unit owner in arrears, but a number of interested industry groups and lawyers are lobbying for this and other, temporary forms of relief for condominium corporations. Included in these efforts are requests for the suspension of meeting requirements in the Condominium Property Act and Regulations, as well as the requirement that reserve funds only be used for implementing capital repairs and replacements. This would permit corporations to access those funds to subsidize shortfalls in their operating budgets.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented numerous challenges in recent days. These challenges are even more complicated in an apartment-style condominium, where many occupants regularly come into close contact with their neighbours in using the common areas of the building. However, by considering the immediate concerns and potential issues that may arise in the future, condo corporations and boards can introduce rules and protocols that will minimize the risk to occupants, owners and staff while stiff adhering to current public health orders and recommendations. For a current list of public health orders and recommendations, please visit www.alberta.ca/COVID19.
10 thoughts to “Tackling COVID-19 and Minimizing Risk: Considerations for Alberta Condominium Corporations”
Can our 33 unit townhouse condominium corporation hold our AGM?
Based on the current public health restrictions, as many as 50 people can be gathered together for an indoor event such as an AGM, but the space would still need to be large enough to accommodate the two-metre social distancing requirements. With this in mind, it is possible for a condominium that has 33 units to convene an AGM in person. However, I would recommend limiting the number of owners attending per unit (where units are owned by more than one person), to only one such owner. I also suggest encouraging people who are in a high-risk category to assign their proxy to a neighbour or board member. This would help reduce the number actually in attendance at the AGM and reduce the risk for those who do attend.
Can the board mandate the closing of our kitchen, dining room and lounge even thou these rooms can accommodate at least 15 people at a two meter distance . These rooms were used to play games and have afternoon coffee. The owners moved their socializing outside during summer but with the onset of cooler weather this is not feasible. The exercise room, library, billiard room and craft room are open to a maximum of two people .
If these areas are part of the common property, then the Board has the authority to close them. This is an extension of its mandate to control, manage and administer the common property in the best interests of the corporation. If you feel that these rooms could remain open with limited capacity and social distancing, then I suggest you contact the Board to make this request. The Board may still insist on prohibiting use of amenities in the kitchen, for example, and require people to bring their own coffee, mugs, etc. But perhaps there is room for a reasonable compromise to be made?
Our condo board is requiring the residents to sign a waiver of claims and assumption of risks in order to enter and/or use the common rooms in our building to engage in social activities including but not limited to coffee socializing, puzzling, playing pool, movie night, exercising, fitness classes and woodworking. The waiver states that by signing the document I will waive certain rights (not listing what rights) including the right to sue or claim compensation. There is no timeline on this waiver and I only have to sign it once in order to access any of the common rooms. The last paragraph reads as follows. By signing below, I acknowledge that I have read and understood all the terms of this agreement and that I am voluntarily waiving substantial legal rights (on my behalf and on behalf of my heirs, executors, administrators and next-of-kin) including the right to sue the corporation and the releases. They have now opened our dining room and lounge with a notice we can not enter or use these rooms without signing this paper. Is this legally binding and I don’t understand the implications of all of this in order to go downstairs, bring my own coffee, social distance and socialize. Thank you for any guidance on this matter. I personally will not sign this document but I am worried about my 90 year old neighbours just wanting to have a game of cards in the safety of our own building. Will she be signing away her rights without really understanding what is happening. We are a 63 unit condominium over 55 building and we are owners. Thank you
Our condo board is requiring the residents to sign a waiver of claims and assumption of risks in order to enter and/or use the common rooms in our building to engage in social activities including but not limited to coffee socializing, puzzling, playing pool, movie night, exercising, fitness classes and woodworking. The waiver states that by signing the document I will waive certain rights (not listing what rights) including the right to sue or claim compensation. There is no timeline on this waiver and I only have to sign it once in order to access any of the common rooms. The last paragraph reads as follows. By signing below, I acknowledge that I have read and understood all the terms of this agreement and that I am voluntarily waiving substantial legal rights (on my behalf and on behalf of my heirs, executors, administrators and next-of-kin) including the right to sue the corporation and the releases. They have now opened all of our common rooms with a notice we can not enter or use these rooms without signing this paper. Is this legally binding .Thank you for any guidance on this matter.
Our Condo Board doesn’t require residents to wear masks or social distance in the common areas. I’ve spoken to Alberta Health Services 811 and have been advised that they are in violation of legislation requiring social distancing AND wearing of masks in public, as condominium (multiple family residence) common areas are considered public areas. Where can I find clarification to provide to the board and our property manager.
Masks are a requirement imposed by the municipality, not the province. The City of Edmonton’s mask bylaw applies to indoor public places, which is defined as “any property, whether publicly or privately owned that members of the public can access”. This does not include interior common spaces within condominium buildings, as these areas are not accessible to the public, only to residents and their guests (however the same may not be true for business or mixed-use condominiums). That being said, this does not preclude individual condo boards from passing rules or policies that require masks to be worn while on the common property. However the reasonableness of the rule or policy would have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the particular characteristics of the condominium at issue, including physical layout and demographics. Further, residents must be notified when a new rule is passed or it does not become effective. Finally, it is important to remember that no resident can be penalized with a monetary sanction for violating a rule or policy, so consideration should be given to how such a rule would be enforced, if at all.
With the December updated mandates, are condo fitness centers now required to also close? I have heard a lot of mixed opinions on this from my neighbours in my building
Condominium buildings are not considered public places. Individual condominium corporations are responsible for managing and administering all common property spaces, including fitness centres. While I do not believe the recent public health orders actually capture fitness facilities located within condo buildings (as these are private, and accessible only to residents), it would be wise for condo corporations to temporarily close such spaces. Alternatively, access should be tightly regulated, limited and monitored, and these areas should be cleaned frequently.