COVID-19 Immunity Law Has Already Expired

The COVID-19 immunity law, which went into effect in 2021, has recently expired. What does this mean for homeowners associations?

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The COVID-19 immunity law, which went into effect in 2021, has recently expired. What does this mean for homeowners associations?

 

What Is the COVID-19 Immunity Law?

Although it was first detected in late 2019, it was not until early 2020 when COVID-19 rapidly spread across the globe. The pandemic had a significant impact on various sectors of the economy. Borders closed, and travel restrictions became the norm. Schools were forced to suspend face-to-face classes, and many businesses shut their doors either temporarily or permanently.

As more and more people began to contract the virus, death counts rose. It soon became apparent that the pandemic not only brought the disease with it but also an increased risk of liability. Business establishments were vulnerable to lawsuits stemming from customers and employees claiming to have become infected in-store. This gave rise to many states enacting COVID-19 immunity laws, offering protection to employers against legal claims of liability related to COVID-19.

Homeowners associations, too, were not left unscathed.

Due to the highly infectious nature of COVID-19, communities had no choice but to cancel in-person meetings and close amenities for the time being. It remained that way for a good while until the introduction of vaccines sparked a glimmer of hope. But, even though 2021 saw a lot of people get the shot, many HOA boards still made the decision to keep amenities closed. This, of course, soon drew the ire of several community members.

Enter the COVID-19 immunity law.

 

New Jersey’s Community Associations COVID-19 Immunity Law

On July 1, 2021, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed Senate Bill 3584 into law. The bill, a COVID-19 liability protection bill, offered community associations immunity against some legal claims related to COVID-19.

According to this law, a community association “shall be immune from civil liability for damages arising from, or related to, an exposure to, or transmission of, COVID-19 on the premises.” However, to qualify for this immunity, an association must prominently display a sign consisting of the following warning:

“Any person entering the premises waives all civil liability against the planned real estate development for damages arising from, or related to, an exposure to, or transmission of, COVID-19 on the premises, except for acts or omissions constituting a crime, actual fraud, actual malice, gross negligence, recklessness, or willful misconduct.”

Community associations must post signage with this warning at every facility that is open to members and guests. The signs must be prominent, which means the words must be legible and eye-catching, and the sign must be placed in an area that is easily noticeable. Associations must regularly check to see if each sign continues to meet this standard.

New Jersey’s COVID-19 immunity law, though, does not expressly apply to board members or management. It only directly protects the association from liability claims related to COVID-19. Additionally, board members must still maintain reasonable and mandatory protocols for residents and employees.

 

Amenities Reopen Once More

community associations COVID-19 Immunity LawThere are about 7,000 community associations in New Jersey alone. That equates to around 1.5 million residents living in planned developments. Even with the vaccine rollouts in 2021, countless HOA communities still chose to keep their facilities closed. This is because there was still a risk of transmission. Not all residents opted to get the vaccine, and there were still breakthrough cases, especially with COVID-19 variants sprouting from different parts of the world.

Due to HOA boards not wanting a lawsuit on their hands, it was a popular decision to keep amenities closed. Many residents complained, as paying their dues supposedly meant they could use the community’s various facilities and common spaces. Some associations responded by reopening amenities with strings attached. Residents had to sign waivers indemnifying their association from liability related to COVID-19.

With the COVID-19 immunity law, HOAs in New Jersey gained some confidence in reopening amenities without much consequence. Associations were no longer vulnerable to most COVID-19 liability cases.

 

The HOA COVID-19 Immunity Law Has Expired: What Now?

While Senate Bill 3584 provided some level of protection to associations, that protection did not last long. It took effect in July 2021 but expired on December 31, 2021. As of the new year, condo and homeowners associations are vulnerable once more. As the Omicron variant causes surges everywhere in the country, HOA boards are wondering what their next move should be.

First of all, boards should sit down with their management company and attorney to discuss the situation at hand. The Omicron variant is the most infectious variant yet, even managing to spread from person to person in outdoor spaces. As a start, boards should continue to follow the protocols set forth by the CDC.

Other measures that boards should take into consideration include:

  • Require residents to wear face masks at all times in both indoor and outdoor common spaces.
  • Practice social distancing everywhere in the community.
  • Reduce occupancy or capacity limits of common areas, including swimming pools, clubhouses, gyms, and elevators.
  • Limit social gatherings in both indoor and outdoor spaces.
  • Establish a contact tracing system, requiring each person to sign in before entering every facility.
  • Install screening and safety systems (such as infrared thermometers and hand sanitizers) at the entrance of each facility or amenity.

For communities with high COVID-19 positivity rates, it may be best to temporarily shut down amenities once again. Keep in mind that this decision may receive backlash from some residents. But, without the COVID-19 immunity law, associations are open to liability claims once more.

 

Short But Effective

Enacted in July 2021, the COVID-19 immunity law offered protection to community associations against legal claims of liability arising from COVID-19. While short-lived, the law did serve to benefit many community associations while it was in effect. It was the assurance that many associations needed to reopen amenities without worrying about lawsuits. But, now that it has expired, boards will need to reevaluate their policies and protocols when it comes to common amenities.

Many HOA boards find it difficult to juggle the law with day-to-day operations. This is where an HOA management company can come in to help. Start your search for the best HOA management company in your area using our online directory.

 

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