Managing common areas during COVID-19

Date Published : Apr-30-2020

Written By : Phillip Livingston

COVID-19 is highly contagious. The virus spreads when a person who is infected coughs or sneezes. It may also be possible for a person to contract COVID-19 by touching a contaminated surface and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes. With so many residents touching the same elevator buttons, handles and more, it’s easy to see how quickly germs could spread.
In order to help keep their residents safe, boards and property managers have had to implement temporary protocols in their buildings. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach; every corporation will have different items and issues that need to be addressed. However, if they’re not already doing so, condos are strongly urged to promote and update health and safety protocols as they continue to monitor and adjust to the current situation.  

 

Closing non-essential common areas     

It is highly recommended that all non-essential common areas, including gyms, libraries, game rooms, yoga rooms, party rooms, playgrounds, pools, hot tubs, and spas, be closed at this time. The goal here is to encourage social distancing, encourage people to stay in their homes, and minimize opportunities for COVID-19 to spread.
A few residents may be unhappy about this decision, specifically because they pay for these facilities and must continue to pay fees even though the amenities have been shut down. However, it is a reasonable and logical action to take based on the information we have about the virus, and the stay-at-home orders that have been issued by government officials. It may be helpful to send out a notice to residents explaining why these facilities have been closed, and provide them with an email address or phone number to use in case they have more questions.
 

Essential spaces and amenities

Some areas and amenities should remain open and/or continue operating to promote the health and well-being of residents. These including laundry rooms, mailrooms, elevators, and lobbies. If appropriate, ask your residents to book a time to use essential amenities so that people aren’t all making their way to the laundry room at the same time.    

 

Elevators

Residents still need to enter and exit the building to get essential supplies. Some people may be essential workers and will need to leave the building to get to work. While it is impossible to micromanage every situation, buildings can post signage advising the maximum number of occupants recommended in an elevator at one time. Many buildings have recommended two or three people at a time.
Some condos have even sectioned off elevators with tape on the floor to create safe spaces for people to stand in while using the elevators.
If someone needs the elevator to move in or move out, try to create a booking time for them during off-peak hours. Ensure the elevator has been sanitized before and after the move.

 

Laundry Rooms

A laundry room is generally small, which is why it’s even more important to follow social distancing procedures in this space. Management could consider creating an online signup schedule, or designate a specific day for each floor to use the laundry room. Management may even need to put a few machines out of service to ensure people remain six feet apart.   

 

Concierge

Concierge and security are considered essential, and they should be in the lobby to help residents. However, their duties may be modified to limit face-to-face interactions.
Residents may be encouraged to call or email the front desk for information rather than visit in person. Only one person per unit should come to the lobby if they require help, and they should keep a respectable distance from the front desk.
All parcel deliveries should be picked up by residents from a designated area in the lobby. If possible, ask residents to meet couriers who are bringing food at a designated space. Residents who are self-isolating or who may be at greater risk if they contract the virus can request to have deliveries dropped off outside of their suite door. These residents should contact management before they ask concierge to provide this service. 

 

Mailrooms

Mailrooms need to remain open, but they should be cleaned multiple times each day. Advise your residents to avoid using the mailroom if they are exhibiting symptoms.

 

Maintenance repairs in common areas

Property management should assess whether a repair is essential, and postpone the service if it is not urgent. If there is a leak, structural issue, electrical issue, or if an elevator has broken down, the repair should be carried out. Encourage the maintenance worker to wear protective equipment while making the repair. Landscaping may or may not be essential to your building.

 

 

Cleaning common areas and amenities

Spaces and amenities that are still open will needed to be cleaned multiple times each day. By maintaining a strict cleaning schedule, the virus is much less likely to spread and make anyone in your building sick. Below are some useful cleaning tips:

  • Create a detailed cleaning routine for your staff
  • Commonly used disinfectants are effective against COVID-19
  • Surfaces, like the counter in the lobby, are most likely to be contaminated. Ensure your cleaning staff disinfect surfaces in common areas
  • In addition to routine cleaning, surfaces that have frequent contact with hands, like elevator buttons, garbage chutes, handrails, touch screens, and handles, should be cleaned and disinfected at least twice per day
  • Check the expiry date of products that your building is using and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions
  • In addition to routine cleaning, check with your city for any specific protocols for cleaning condos during COVID-19
  • Cleaning staff should use appropriate personal protective equipment, including gloves and masks
  • Encourage and support proper handwashing by keeping washroom facilities stocked with soap and paper towels at all times
  • Make sure handwashing sinks are in a state of good repair
  • Managers or board members may want to ask residents to wear a mask and gloves when they exit their unit. Though it would be very difficult to make this a requirement, you can explain why it would be beneficial
  • Consider having alcohol-based hand sanitizer in common areas and other high traffic areas if possible
  • Watch for updates or new information regarding COVID-19 from health and government officials. Be prepared to change policies and procedures, and always inform your building of any new changes
 

Conclusion

Condo boards and managers have a very difficult job of trying to keep their building safe while maintaining some regular day-to-day operations. It’s a bit of a balancing act, but it can be done. Use credible information to make sound decisions, and if in doubt about whether to keep an area open, consult with a lawyer to get the information you’re looking for.
Condos should do all that they reasonably can to keep common areas and essential amenities clean, however, it is important that they avoid representing any common area as “virus-free.” There is no way to guarantee complete sanitization.