We've reached an exciting stage in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With the vaccine program now rolling out, citizens are more than ready to heave a collective sigh of relief and start getting back to normal. Simultaneously, however, the vaccine program will be incremental, meaning it could be months before enough people can be vaccinated to make a dent in the infection rates. If your community association is considering instituting a mask mandate over and above your local ordinances, please consider these four takeaways.
You've heard the saying: "With great power comes great responsibility." It's right for political leaders, superheroes, and HOA board members alike. If you're going to be calling the shots, you need to do so in a way that takes responsibility for the safety and welfare of others.
Issuing a mask mandate may not be a popular decision in some community associations. Still, it may be the most responsible one, mainly if the numbers of positive coronavirus cases in your area have been on the rise.
Throughout the pandemic, prominent HOA industry attorneys have warned of legal liability if someone in their association becomes ill with COVID-19 and decides to sue the HOA for failing to protect them:
Mask-wearing rules help prevent the HOA from having to pay out big money in the event of a lawsuit. It's a sad but true reality in our litigious society.
So whether your state governor or local leaders decide to issue a regional mask mandate or not, you should still consider instituting one, both to slow the further spread of the virus and to guard your HOA against any potential litigation.
Considering a mask mandate for your community is one thing. Figuring out how to enforce it is another. Some associations have levied fines on those who do not comply (or have at least threatened to do so). Still, some sticky particulars affect whether or not collecting fines would prove feasible:
- Who will enforce the rule?
- Will our state law allow it?
- Do our HOA documents permit it?
- Who has the authority to collect the fines?
While the answers to these questions are apparent in some places, in many instances, the particulars are murky and will need to be hashed out individually before announcing the mandate.
While it feels like a cliché to call the pandemic "unprecedented" at this point, it's only become cliché through repeated use; and it's only can repeat so often because it's true. In most cases, HOA's and community associations have never faced anything like the coronavirus crisis before. As a result, their established rules and founding documents make little allowance for the particulars of handling a public health crisis on a global scale. While there will certainly be time for changes and amendments, the question for the moment is what they allow you to enforce right now.
Safety and Practicality
With or without an enforceable mask mandate, there are still practical ways that HOA board members and owners can work together to slow the spread of the virus and protect their communities from unnecessary infections. It starts with staying home more when possible, maintaining social distancing measures when out and about, and practicing good hand hygiene.
Also, residents and board members can work together on the following items:
- Regularly disinfecting common areas and shared facilities
- Postponing non-essential maintenance
- Keeping residents well informed of the latest CDC guidelines
- Canceling public social events and restrict non-essential gatherings
- Conducting community meetings virtually
These simple steps can significantly reduce the virus's spread as we wait together for the vaccine rollout to lead to a natural drop in infection rates.