Prepared for the Unprecedented
Written on May 20, 2020
Is being prepared for the unprecedented—the anomalous, the abnormal, the unknown—even possible? It has often been said that community association management is a learn-on-the-job type of career and if you ask managers what they like about it, you will frequently hear that there is something new to learn every day. Sure, you can read the HOA and Condominium Acts, take a 16-hour course, pass the State exam, and take pride in the letters that now follow your name as a licensed community association manager. However, being an LCAM—a great LCAM—takes experience. More importantly, it requires the ability to apply what you have learned from overcoming past challenges to tackling the different obstacles you encounter day-to-day.
The COVID-19 pandemic certainly has managers in uncharted waters, as outbreaks in the past occurred before homeowner and condominium associations became common. Therefore, it requires taking the experience we have in disaster preparedness, such as dealing with hurricanes, and applying the best practices we have learned to creating plans for managing the different phases of a pandemic. As the old proverb goes, “smooth seas don’t make skillful sailors.”
When developing disaster preparedness plans for this outbreak, we needed to consider the effects the pandemic is having on our communities. COVID-19 resulted in government orders requiring quarantining, social distancing, and the use of masks; it also caused a lot of fear, panic, and worry. These consequences mean more people in our communities at a time and place where people shouldn’t congregate, heightened emotions when interacting with each other, and financial hardships when the costs for extra cleaning and legal advice are causing a rise in association expenses.
In true valiant form, Florida communities are overcoming COVID-19 with the strong leadership of their boards of directors and the unwavering dedication of their management teams, legal counsel, and service providers. As always, challenges and solutions depend on the specific association, but examples include the following:
Amenities—Much to residents’ displeasure, both HOAs and condominiums closed amenities such as pools and restaurants. When pools and gathering rooms were open or re-opened, chairs were positioned six feet apart. Dine-ins were paused, and on-site food and beverage operations were limited to carry-out only. New procedures were implemented, and specialized service providers were engaged for cleaning and sanitization. On-site personnel and vendors were either asked to stay home or stagger their work schedules.
Code Enforcement—Managers continued performing site inspections; however, boards and committees had to address covenant violations on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether the issue required a vendor coming on-site or not. Hearings were affected similarly as the meetings mentioned below.
Deliveries—With many people at home, outside food deliveries and online shopping greatly increased. Condominiums, especially towers, had to implement no-touch procedures for package delivery.
Finances—Homeowners lost their jobs, making it difficult to pay their maintenance fees. Boards were challenged to sympathize with their neighbors’ extenuating circumstances while ensuring their associations’ needs were met and paid for (this isn’t necessarily a new challenge, of course, and is one of the reasons we owe our boards the utmost respect).
Guests/Visitors—Also more prevalent in condominiums, restrictions on visitations were implemented.
Meetings—Board and community meetings, hearings, as well as elections, were cancelled or postponed. Meetings of an emergency nature were held using remote collaboration and electronic voting platforms. Management offices were closed for walk-ins and meetings with managers were made by appointment only, while maintaining social distance. Live events were replaced by virtual classes and meetups.
Supplies—On-site teams and vendors had to wear masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment (PPE). There were many shortages of highly in-demand products such as disinfectant wipes and sprays, which required proactive and creative ways for finding the necessary supplies.
As a management company providing essential services, it has been business as usual for Castle Group, though in unusual times. With COVID-19 came numerous opportunities to identify and implement various internal measures to best support our communities, including e-blasting daily and weekly communication to our boards from our leadership team and sending video messages; creating dashboards to monitor community progress and to track COVID cases; hosting a multitude of educational webinars; holding virtual meetings; organizing virtual office and property tours; increasing information technology support and expanding bandwidth; coordinating procurement of supplies; lining up financial partners to assist with impending hardships; etc. Moreover, all of our webinars and resources were made available to clients, non-clients, and self-managed communities alike with the goal of sharing as much information as possible to help us all get through this together, including Site Response and Re-Opening Plans.
As with any disaster preparedness plan, or playbook as we informally refer to them, you need an understanding of your association’s emergency powers, a strategy for the resources (i.e., people, systems, and technology) you need to deploy, access to the organizations that provide updates as events unfold, modes of communication, supply chain management, and much more. For COVID-19, in particular, Castle’s playbooks include the following:
- Background information on the novel coronavirus—symptoms, how it spreads, prevention & treatment, and governmental agencies involved
- Site activation guidelines
- Communication—raising awareness and educating our residents
- Use of PPE—requiring the use of masks, gloves, gowns, etc.
- Cleaning and sanitization—increasing frequency and establishing procedures
- Supply chain management—taking inventory and identifying suppliers
- Membership meetings and events—postponing or using virtual devices
- Presumptive site case procedures
- Confirmed site case procedures
- Department of Health contact information
- Framework for re-opening—phased approach based on “gating” factors being met (i.e., downward trajectory of COVID-like cases)
- Tools and resources
- Sample communication
- Links to county executive orders
- Sample guidelines
- Signage templates
These playbooks are then specifically customized for each and every community and reviewed by the association’s legal counsel.
As of the writing of this article, government orders are being relaxed and our communities are in different stages of re-opening, but it is still unclear what the future holds. Like the aftermath of a hurricane, we will be dealing with the effects of COVID-19 for months and, most likely, years to come. In fact, we must be prepared to embrace a new lifestyle. Nevertheless, we can rest a little easier having solid plans in place, knowing that they are based on time-tested systems that we’ve codified from experience, allowing us to focus on what community management is all about—enriching the lives of our residents and the communities we proudly serve, no matter what the new normal may entail.coronavirus, covid-19 pandemic