Coronavirus in Condos: Best Practices for Property Managers

social distancing best practices for property managers
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, recommendations for our industry are constantly evolving. We have compiled a list of suggested best practices for Property Managers based on the information currently available. This is Pt. 2 of our series, Coronavirus in Condos.
“Wash your hands and practice social distancing.”

This message has been reinforced time and time again since the World Health Organization (WHO) announced COVID-19 a pandemic.   Property Managers are now facing an abundance of property related issues resulting from the novel coronavirus. Residents are spending more time at home, converting their homes into offices, and many are self-isolating. New precautionary steps are being implemented to stop the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure smooth day-to-day operations of Condo and Strata Corporations. Here are some of the recommendations being made.

Basic Condominium Protocol

Before diving in, it is important to lay out basic protocol that Property Managers should be implementing at this time. The Condominium Management Regulatory Authority of Ontario (CMRAO) states that condos should:

  • Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers at main doors and elevators.
  • Display signs reminding residents and visitors to:
    • wash hands with soap regularly,
    • cough or sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve. Immediately dispose of tissue in a lined trash can and wash your hands,
    • avoid touching eyes, nose, or mouth, and
    • avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • Keep objects and surfaces clean and disinfected. Instruct cleaning teams to provide more focus on high-contact surfaces, such as front desk counters, door handles, or common areas.

Taken from: https://www.cmrao.ca/en-US/newsroom/blog/Coronavirus-in-Condos/

Notices to Owners

Property Managers should consider providing notices to tenants regarding the following topics:

  • Provide tips from and website information for the local public health authority, provincial Ministry of Health, and Health Canada, and request that residents comply with all recommendations.
  • Advise that resident should refrain from using the amenities (or close them all together) and minimize the use of the common areas, especially if they have recently travelled and/or exhibit any symptoms such as coughing or fever.
  • Advise that residents practice social distancing measures in common element areas such as lobbies, elevators, and other shared facilities.
  • Outline and communicate procedures for reporting to property management if the resident is in self-isolation or quarantine.
  • Reduce parcel deliveries by highlighting the difference between essential and non-essential items.
  • Remind residents of proper garbage disposal and preventing drain clogs and back-ups resulting from residents spending more time at home.

Service Provider and Contractor Best Practices

Before issuing work with service providers and contractors, Property Managers should consider the following precautions:

  • Discuss what steps are being taken to minimize the chance of exposure for residents, including ensuring that any representatives who have recently travelled to affected areas are not sent to the site.
  • Discuss what measures may be taken if representatives will be entering a unit to perform duties, to address any health concerns of the residents and of the workers.

    *Note that in response to COVID-19, Normac has opted to temporarily suspend ALL interior site inspections until further notice and has provided our clients with alternative solutions.*

  • Consider postponing non-urgent work where appropriate.
  • Discuss with all service providers whether or not any disruption in service is anticipated, including any disruption due to employee absence or supply disruptions.
  • Discuss with onsite staff, such as maintenance staff or concierge, any concerns they have relating to the safety of the workplace and encouraging all workers who feel ill to stay home.
  • Incorporate social distancing measures for over-the-counter communications with onsite staff.
  • Review options and consider business continuity plans in the event of any severe disruptions to the Corporation’s operations as a result of COVID-19.

AGMs and BOD/Council Meetings

One simple approach is to defer any and all meetings to future dates, after the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. If the meeting must go on, consider the following:

  • Encourage proxy and electronic voting rather than in-person attendance.
  • If the total number of condo owners is less than the prohibited 50+ gathering, use a venue that is large enough to accommodate the required 2-meter safe distance between attendees.
  • Make hand sanitizers available as well as new pens for completion of ballots and sign-in forms.
  • Post signs with reminders of safety precautions — no handshaking, wash hands or use hand sanitizer, stand apart from other owners and maintain the required 2-meter distance, do not touch your face, etc.
  • Make arrangements for owners to view the meeting on a live video feed.
  • Keep the meeting moving as expeditiously as possible to minimize the duration of the meeting, perhaps offering to answer owner questions by email prior to the meeting to attempt to both reduce in-person attendance and to minimize the duration of the meeting.
  • Hold all BOD / Council meetings via Zoom Video Conferencing.

Taken from: http://www.mondaq.com/canada/Real-Estate-and-Construction/906464/Coronavirus-And-Condominiums-March-12-2020-Update

*Note some of this has been revised to reflect current recommendations from health authorities.

Final Recommendations

It is important to note that the coronavirus is a developing situation which requires an adaptive approach. The number of confirmed cases in Canada are continually rising, it is imperative to follow the latest developments and adjust your building’s protocol as needed. These best practices are to be considered general guidelines – any specific matters should be consulted with a legal firm.

Additional Resources

Normac is taking precautionary measures to protect our staff, clients, and to do our part in preventing the further spread of COVID-19. Read more about our efforts here.

COVID-19: Normac’s Response

COVID19 Normac's Response

*Click here to view Normac’s current COVID-19 Response and Policies. 

March 16, 2020

To our Normac Clients and Partners,

RE:  COVID-19 UPDATE

We appreciate how overwhelmed you must be with the news regarding COVID-19.   We are committed to being both responsive and responsible, navigating these difficult times with the safety of our team and clients at the forefront of our minds and procedures.   We remain focussed on three things:

  1. Ensuring the safety of our employees and clients
  2. Continuing to provide exceptional service to our clients
  3. Supporting local efforts to limit the spread and impact of COVID-19

We do not anticipate any interruption in Normac delivery of services.  We are, however, suspending all interior site inspections until further notice.  We offer an alternative to in-suite site inspections that will allow our appraisers to collect the necessary information in a timely manner.  We will continue to view the exteriors of buildings without entering the premises.

While our physical offices are not open, we continue to serve you with the same high standards and customer service as always.  A significant number of our employees already work remotely, and we are fortunate in that our business allows us to easily transition to a fully remote workforce.  We have the technology and systems in place to continue business as usual.  This makes us confident in our ability to continue providing great service to you and conducting business normally.

That means, among other things:

  • Our Client Services team will remain available for phone calls and emails from 6am PST (9am EST) – 5pm PST (8pm EST).
  • Appraisal reports and appraisal updates will continue to be emailed to all stakeholders with the same frequency and delivery dates as normally scheduled.
  • Standard Insurable Unit Description Outline self-completed forms will be offered as an alternative to in-suite site inspections. An SIUD expert will be available to assist condo boards through the process should any questions arise.

We are committed to serving our clients to the highest standards. Thank you for your patience and your trust in Normac. We are prepared to push through these challenges and put the safety of our Normac team, our clients, and our partners at the forefront of every decision we make. Stay safe and keep healthy.

Sincerely,

Cameron Carter

President

 

Download a copy of this letter. 

How to deal with coronavirus in condos. 

How To Deal With Coronavirus in Condos

coronavirus in condos
Last week, the World Health Organization declared Coronavirus (COVID-19) a national pandemic. Condominium corporations, directors of the board, and property managers should be on high alert, taking the necessary preventative measures to ensure their properties are safe. It is important to note that the possibility of transmission will always exist, however, can be drastically reduced with good hygiene practice and knowing how to deal with Coronavirus in condominiums.

What Is Coronavirus?

The coronavirus (also known as “COVID-19”) is a virus which symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death.

As of March 16, Canada has 324 confirmed cases of coronavirus. At the time of writing this, Ontario has the highest number with 145 confirmed, and British Columbia and Alberta are close behind with 73 and 56 reported cases respectively. The contagious nature of this virus means that this number will continue to grow exponentially.

The transmissibility of this virus is much like the common cold. The virus can be passed on from person-to person or through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. This is why officials are recommending social distancing to prevent the spread.

Travellers, particularly those who are returning home from Europe, Middle East, and Asia are at the highest risk. Anyone coming into Canada is being told to self-isolate for 14 days and monitor symptoms.

How Does Coronavirus Affect My Condo?

Condominiums house a high number of people living in close proximity to one another with shared common spaces. These shared spaces include elevators, fitness rooms, condo lobbies, etc. The traffic in these areas pose a high risk for contamination, especially when it comes to door handles and elevator buttons.

If you are feeling sick, are returning from travel, or are other wise high risk of infection, it is imperative to self-quarantine as per the Canadian government’s recommendations. As a condo owner, this means remaining within your unit and having people bring necessities to you, or only leaving for medical care.

What Are My Legal Obligations On Behalf Of The Condo Board?

Quite frankly, condo corporations are not fully equipped to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The jurisdiction of this surpasses property management – into the domain of public health and communicable diseases. Rod Escayola writes in Condo Advisor last week that, Condo corporations have a duty to “control, manage and administer the common elements and the assets of the corporation.”  Similarly, boards of directors have a duty to manage the affairs of the corporation. Simply put, condos are there to manage the property, not pandemics.

The corporation can make rules on “the safety, security or welfare of the owners”, however this does not specify how to go about a contagion like coronavirus. In section 117 of the Ontario Condo Act, any activity that is likely to cause bodily harm (in units or common areas) is prohibited. Does this legislation give the authority to quarantine someone in their unit? Not likely, but that does not absolve the board from their social responsibility as leaders for their community.

Josee Deslongchamps, an Ottawa condo manager, provided this very informative notice to owners on the coronavirus. Condo boards could share a notice similar to this, which requests those who are at risk to self-quarantine and refrain from using common property, in a respectful and factual manner. It also communicates what precautions are being taken by the condo corporation to protect owners.

How To Deal With Coronavirus in Condominiums?

It is not expected for condo corporations to have foolproof measures against coronavirus. However, property managers and directors of the board can fulfil their fiduciary duty by taking these basic precautions:
  • Ensure that commonly used common element areas (sanitary facilities, fitness rooms, lobby/garage entrance door handles and elevator call buttons) are kept clean and disinfected with industry appropriate products;
  • Install hand sanitizers in common areas, by the main doors or by the elevators;
  • Post signs reminding owners to be extra diligent when wiping fitness equipment;
  • Remind owners not to use the fitness room, the pool or the amenities if feeling sick;
  • Encourage occupants having travelled to high risk-zones to consider avoiding using the common amenities for 14 days;
  • Encourage occupants/employees to self-quarantine if required;
  • Encourage occupants/employees to report to the corporation should they have been infected by the virus. This could allow the corporation to take early measures;
  • In certain circumstances, it may be worth considering postponing some of your social events… and perhaps even the AGM depending on how things evolve in your areas.  You may want to consult with your legal counsel before you do so.
Taken from Condo Advisor: http://condoadviser.ca/2020/03/coronavirus-in-condos/condo-law-blog-Ontario

Condo boards could also take note of how Italian condo dwellers are keeping their spirits up with music, or how other residents are working out together from their balconies in Seville, Spain.

The Bottom Line

Good hygienic practices go a long way in combatting airborne viruses. Taking proper precautionary measures in your condominium will drastically reduce the spread of coronavirus. In keeping with your community’s policy on Discrimination and Inclusiveness, residents are reminded that acts of racism, xenophobia and other discriminatory behaviours should never be tolerated. A collaborative community effort is vital in effectively managing a pandemic as such.

Additional Resources

CHOA – Preventing Coronavirus: https://www.choa.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/600-014-Preventing-coronavirus.pdf

PAMA – What Do We Know and What Can We Do about COVID-19?: https://www.pama.ca/common/Uploaded%20files/pdfs/Almanac/COVID_19.pdf

ACMO – ACMO Coronavirus Advisory: https://acmo.org/acmo-coronavirus-statement

Normac is also taking precautionary measures to protect our staff, clients, and to do our part in preventing the further spread of COVID-19. Read more about our efforts here.

Hard Insurance Market: What Can Stratas / Condo Boards Do To Protect Themselves

What Can Condo Boards Do To Protect Themselves In This Hard Insurance Market

Recently, we posted articles about the hard insurance market and its impacts on the BC condo housing market.  The news about sky-high insurance premiums and deductibles, condominiums with loss limits or no coverage at all has many condo owners and boards panicking . They are turning to their insurance brokers and asking, what can we do to make our property more attractive to insurers?

The answer isn’t simple and the results won’t be seen overnight, but the best thing that condo boards can do is take better care of their property.

What Are Insurers Looking For?

The insurance industry is not regulated and as with any business, they can choose where to conduct business based on where they can be successful. In today’s technology era, access to data has become more available and insurance companies are seeing their losses instantly and accurately. Because of this, they can respond more quickly by pulling out of lines of business that are not seeing profits. With fewer players, the remaining insurance companies are tightening their underwriting and increasing their prices.

Multi-resident properties are especially prone to more claims. This is due to the construction of the properties (a leak on the 18th floor of a high rise building can do more damage than a leak on the second level of a single family home) and because of the community-mentality many owners have (“it’s not my problem, it’s the corporation’s problem”). Because of this, many insurers have backed out of the multi-residential property market.

Those insurers who have stayed in the market are looking for properties with the least amount of risk.  The Insurance Bureau of Canada lists 10 factors that typically affect premiums, and here is a summary of the most crucial points:

  • Replacement Cost: those buildings which are more expensive are under more scrutiny
  • Claims History: past claims are often indicative of future claims
  • Repair and Maintenance: insurers are looking at your pipes, roof, electrical and more to determine if you are at risk of an accident caused by deficiencies
  • Location: are you in an at-risk area for fire, flood, earthquake and if so, what preventative measures have you taken

There are a number of things both strata / condo corporations and unit owners can do to protect themselves and makes themselves more attractive to insurers.

What Can Strata / Condo Corporations Do To Protect Themselves?

  1. Obtain a Depreciation Report or Reserve Fund Study and strictly follow a regular maintenance, repair and replacement plan. Increase condo fees annually to ensure your contingency reserve fund is adequately funded.  This can be one of the single best ways to ensure your building has fewer claims.

  2. Revise bylaws to make the corporation responsible for the inspection of unit appliances and fixtures – check dryer vents, smoke detectors and fire alarms, aging appliances. Make unit owners responsible for repair or replacement when required.

  3. Invest in preventative measures such as installing sprinkler cages in hallways or water leak detectors.

  4. Ensure all trades have insurance before conducting any work on your property.

  5. Educate owners to be more careful and take more responsibility for their actions. The corporation should reinforce the idea that insurance should not be used for maintenance, it should be used for accidents which are not preventable.

What Can Unit Owner Do To Protect Themselves?

  1. Ensure they have unit owner’s insurance to protect personal property and unit betterments.

  2. Find out what are the corporations bylaws related to passing on deductibles to owners and ensure they have adequate coverage should they be deemed responsible for a claim.

  3. Follow the recommended usage and maintenance for all appliances – don’t run washing machines and dishwashers if you are not home.

  4. Follow the corporation’s annual maintenance guidelines, such as turning off water lines in the winter and in general, take better care of their units and shared property.

Final Recommendations

Ultimately, it comes down to changing unit owner behaviour. The nature of community living is that people have the mentality that if something happens, “it’s not my problem.” They are quick to make claims and resist taking responsibility. This can be seen in the number of claims made by multi-unit residences as compared to single family homes or commercial properties. More than 90% of claims are coming from water problems: appliances breaking down, aging piping issues, accidental triggers to sprinklers. All of these are avoidable when corporations and owners follow proper maintenance and replacement routines. You can find some relevant tips and information on the Government of BC official website.

It is crucial to also be proactive in communications with insurance brokers. See what specific advice they have and which projects could be taken on to make a property more attractive to insurers. Find out what steps they are taking with marketing your property and determine the communications plan to unit owners about potential increases.  While owners and corporations won’t see improvements to their premiums and deductibles immediately, over time, this will help increase their attractiveness to insurers and decrease their overall risk.

Normac has its finger to the pulse of the insurance industry and in response to the recent changes has implemented a new 60-90 day valuation delivery policy. In an effort to mitigate stress and provide brokers with ample marketing time, we now deliver our reports sooner.

For a no-obligation proposal, click here.