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Condo life in time of COVID-19

Thursday, March 19, 2020 @ 9:21 AM | By Sarah Morrey


Sarah Morrey %>
Sarah Morrey
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a pandemic, with the number of cases outside China increasing thirteenfold over the past two weeks.

Though the risk for Canadians remains relatively low, COVID-19 is at the forefront of everyone’s minds — particularly those in close quarters with others, including those living in condominiums.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus and is spread from person-to-person contact, mainly through respiratory droplets produced when a person coughs or sneezes. Though still learning how it spreads, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that the virus spreads easily and sustainably within communities and can spread before an infected individual develops any symptoms.

Certain individuals are more susceptible to the virus, including older adults and individuals who have chronic medical conditions or are on immunosuppressants.

COVID-19, condominiums

With the cancellation of sports games, tournaments, marathons and frankly all large events over 50 people, it is no wonder that individuals who work and reside in condominiums are hyper-aware of their unusually close proximity to their neighbours. Whether it be touching the elevator buttons, opening the entrance door or picking up a package from the concierge, condo-goers are in a unique position with these inevitable daily interactions.

So, what should be done?

Employers have strict obligations to protect the health and safety of workers pursuant to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). During this pandemic, condos will likely face many new workplace health and safety issues, including employees who refuse to work or dealing with employees who have recently travelled to high risk zones.

Canadian health authorities have not yet issued mandatory quarantine orders or directives, but we are seeing new developments daily, including the encouragement that Canadian residents practise social distancing. Until a mandatory directive is in place, employers cannot force employees to remain home with pay. However, condo boards may consider suggesting that employees take a “staycation” — remaining home while using vacation days.

The employer must also, under the OHSA, take all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of its employees, and must provide the required information, instruction and supervision to meet this goal. Thus, if there is a known case of COVID-19 within the building, it is advisable to inform residents, owners and employees of same, keeping in mind that the privacy of those affected must be safeguarded.

With spring and summer season slowly approaching, condominium boards are also facing the dilemma of whether to hold or postpone Annual General Meetings (AGM). Given the recent guidance by the Public Health Agency of Canada for individuals living in Canada to take steps that “flatten the curve” of the pandemic; i.e., to take appropriate public health interventions such as social distancing and hand hygiene to reduce the number of overall cases and health effects — corporations should consult with legal counsel for advice during this evolving period.  

Section 45(2) of the Condominium Act, 1998 requires corporations to hold AGMs within six months of the end of the fiscal year. While corporations are required to comply with the Act, corporations must also consider the health and safety of the members of their community, as well as the guidelines imposed by the federal and provincial governments.

Condo boards must also keep in mind s. 117 of the Act, which provides that “no person shall permit a condition to exist or carry on an activity in a unit or in the common elements if the condition or the activity is likely to damage the property or cause injury to an individual.”

Some considerations that a corporation should take in mind include:

  • Have any owners/residents/employees/service providers tested positive for COVID-19?
  • Have any owners recently travelled to any of the high-risk locations?
  • Is the demographic of the corporation at a greater risk (i.e., older adults)?
  • Is the room where the AGM is to be held large enough to create the recommended two-metre distance between attendees?
  • How many persons are expected to be in attendance?

At this point in time, our recommendation is that condominium corporations consider postponing all scheduled AGMs in light of the health and safety considerations for the residents in the community. We are also recommending that corporations consider implementing other measures, such as:

  • Shutting down all amenities;
  • Prohibiting the use of guest suites;
  • Elevator protocol (i.e. trying to limit the number of users);
  • Encouraging residents to limit the number of visitors;
  • Prohibition of transient rentals;
  • Delaying construction projects, where feasible.

Residents of condominiums should consider advising management as soon as reasonably possible if they are diagnosed with COVID-19. We are then recommending that management advise the community that someone in the building has been diagnosed, without disclosing that individual’s identity or unit number.

The author notes that the above information is current as of March 18, 2020. The situation as it pertains to COVID-19 is changing on a daily basis, and condo corporations should consult their lawyer for advice as it relates to handling the management of the disease.  

Sarah Morrey recently graduated from the JD program at Western Law and is now an articling student at Lash Condo Law. Her practice has so far involved her in many aspects of condo law and she frequently contributes to the Lash Condo Law legal blog. She may be reached at smorrey@lashcondolaw.com

Photo credit / zilli ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

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