Could be a long hot summer for HOAs
Some association swimming pools and spas still remain closed for fear of Covid claims
Pools, spas and other amenities in many homeowners associations across the country remain closed despite state governors lifting local restrictions in place related to the Covid 19 pandemic.
According to a May 2021 Community Associations Institute (CAI) survey of 1,000 CAI members nationwide, 2% of homeowners association swimming pools will remain closed this year, 9% will delay opening, and 27% have not yet determined if they will re-open their pools this year.
Residents in these communities, who have continued to pay dues, are frustrated.
Two pools in Boca Fontana, Florida, closed in March 2020 and their gates remain barred to this day. The clubhouse, tennis courts and basketball courts also are off limits indefinitely.
A Boca Fontana HOA posted a note at the pool that says in part: “The Board feels that there is a tremendous liability for the Association as a whole to allow unfettered access to the community pool.”
To open safely, the note says the pools’ bathrooms would have to be “cleaned regularly throughout the day (which could mean every couple/few hours with some attorneys suggesting it could mean after every use) and ... a staff member must be present at the pool to enforce the restrictions of social distancing, wearing
2021 Service Industry News summer survey shows greatest participation from the Southern California and Southwest regions — Thanks to all you guys! — See story on page 17. masks, wiping down pool handles, no shower use, etc.”
Boca Fontana homeowner Eric Cohen said besides the community’s pools, the 307-home neighborhood has a basketball court, two tennis courts, hot tub and clubhouse that remain closed. Cohen said he has twin 6-year-old daughters who want to swim in the pool this summer. He has been sending letters to government officials and organized a petition drive to push a restart.
“We’re seeing other facilities reopen,” Cohen said. “We’re still paying full dues and not getting what we are paying for.”
But attorney Guy Shir who represents Boca Fontana said that Florida’s new liability law may not fully protect businesses and non-profits from Covidrelated lawsuits, and insurance policies may not save associations from paying damages. He said a successful lawsuit could result in financial assessments to be paid by each homeowner.
The Knightsbridge neighborhood in Coral Springs, Florida also still has a closed pool since the pandemic began. Resident Matt Sampson said his kids, ages 10, 12 and 16, are aching to go swimming.
“We moved here for the neighborhood pool,” said Sampson, a Knightsbridge resident for six years. “The frustrating part is no one has identified the criteria they will use to reopen. Meanwhile, we are still paying our homeowners’ association dues.”
The situation is much the same at many HOA’s in New Jersey, where facilities remain closed for fear of lawsuits if a resident or guest contracts the virus on their property.
Residents at the Villas at Jumping Brook, in Neptune City, New Jersey, an age-restricted community of 160 singlefamily homes, pay $220 a month in HOA dues. These dues are supposed to give them access to amenities that include a swimming pool; a clubhouse with an exercise room, card room and library; a patio with a grill; a tennis court; and two bocce ball courts.
When the pandemic began spreading rapidly last March, the HOA board closed those facilities. However, since then, New Jersey Covid cases have fallen 95% from their January peak, and Governor Phil Murphy has begun lifting restrictions on wearing masks and public gatherings.
Nonetheless, amenities at this and other housing communities across the state remain closed because insurance policies won’t cover the associations for pandemics, leaving them open to potential lawsuits. New Jersey has nearly 7,000 community associations, representing almost 1.5 million residents, according to the Community Associations Institute, and many of these are unwilling to reopen their community pools, spas, and other amenities.
Angela Kavanaugh, executive director of the institute’s New Jersey chapter, said she wasn’t aware of any Covid-related lawsuits that have been filed against boards, but that each has had to make its own decision on whether, or how much, to reopen.
“Even if the suit wasn’t won, there’s legal fees involved, and that’s the issue,” Kavanaugh said. “You’re talking a very big expense.”
But residents at the Villas just want to relax by the swimming pool, use the exercise room or simply take a walk around the courtyard, all of which remain closed.
They have even asked if residents could sign waivers so at least fully vaccinated people could use the outdoor facilities. Most of them are fully vaccinated and they have watched people return to public beaches and restaurants, but they can’t return to their own outdoor facilities.
In New Jersey, the issue is becoming a matter for lawmakers to determine.
New Jersey state senators Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex, Shirley Turner, D-Hunterdon, and Nicholas Sacco, D-Bergen, have introduced a bill that would provide immunity in case someone was exposed to Covid-19 at a planned real estate development.
Meanwhile, a coalition of 10 agerestricted communities in Berkeley filed a lawsuit against Gov. Phil Murphy, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli and Berkeley Township.
The lawsuit, filed May 4, argues that the communities should be allowed to open their pools and clubhouses without fear of being prosecuted, given that Covid may be here to stay.
And some New Jersey HOA’s have re-opened, figuring that the chances of a successful Covid lawsuit are small. The plaintiffs would have to prove that they contracted the virus at the property instead of a restaurant or supermarket, which is a difficult case to argue.
That’s why Charles DeMaria, resident of the Villas, thinks that his community’s amenities should re-open.
“It’s ridiculous, because how are you going to prove they got (Covid) here?
Photo Credit: www.ebrecreation.com