COVID-19 (Coronavirus) – Update #13

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Dear Strata Councils,

We’re pleased to say that there have not been many COVID-19 related developments over the past week- with any luck, as restrictions ease we will all get back to something a little more closely resembling “normal” over the summer.  We must continue to be vigilant, especially when it comes to preparation for a second wave of the virus, and ensure that we are all doing our part to mitigate the risk of transmission that still exists.  With that in mind, we offer the following guidance:

    • Amenity Spaces – The reopening of amenity spaces is one of the more significant challenges facing Strata Councils at this time.  There are Owners/Residents who are pushing for spaces to be reopened, whether it’s to celebrate a loved one’s birthday, tend to a community garden, relax in a Strata movie theatre or work up a sweat in a gym. We are mindful of the guidance being offered by public health authorities (such as this guide, from Island Health, which outlines their requirements for reopening fitness centres and which serves as a useful template for local properties).  The Condominium Home Owners Association (CHOA) conducted a webinar last week on this specific subject, which they’ve been kind enough to make publicly available here.  We recommend your Emergency Committee review this presentation, as it synthesizes the latest available data and provides broad advice to Strata Corporations who are considering reopening their spaces.  At this time, neither Fraser nor Vancouver Coastal Health have published their own regulations for fitness facilities, and thus Strata Corporations are directed to the WorksafeBC regulations.

      There are many takeaways from CHOA’s presentation, but a few are worth highlighting:

      • Strata amenity spaces are treated in the same manner as commercial spaces, and there are positive obligations on Strata Corporations who wish to reopen to ensure cleanliness/hygiene.  This likely requires monitoring the space to ensure compliance with the Worksafe regulations for gyms and fitness centres.  Monitoring the space for compliance will mean different things to different Strata Corporations depending on their physical layout and how much use the space sees, but at a maximum may require a permanent staff member to be assigned to supervise the space and at a minimum would almost certainly require regular check-ups by staff members or Council members, equipping the spaces with sanitization/hand-washing stations, protecting the health of Strata employees/contractors and more;
      • Social distancing must be adhered to in order to protect the users and the Strata Corporation from liability- CHOA recommends a 15% rule for occupancy, based on the math of requiring 2 metres of distance between individuals in an enclosed space.  In other words, if your gym had a previous occupancy limit of 8, it should be reduced to 1-2, if your meeting room had a previous occupancy of 16 it would be reduced to 2-3, etc.  Obviously, this is a dramatic reduction in the capacity of spaces- and because of the additional costs associated with staffing and cleaning these spaces, many Strata Corporations are simply not re-opening;
      • Strata Councils should work out systems, if they reopen amenity spaces, to ensure strict compliance with Worksafe BC regulations such as that users be screened (and tracked, for contact tracing purposes) before using the space, appropriate signage is developed, equipment removed or re-arranged to help with distance, staff are protected, reporting structures are in place for any issues encountered, etc.

Needless to say these are significant burdens on non-profit Strata Corporations.  We recognize that there is a very strong desire to utilize amenity spaces (paid for by Strata Fees) and will continue to share with you the latest advice from experts in our industry as it                                           comes in.  We also recommend legal advice if you are struggling with specific requirements for your facility as there is no one-size fits all approach.

    • In-Suite Inspections – With stay-at-home orders being lifted, many Strata Corporations are considering how to go about conducting in-suite inspections for items such as routine testing of fire safety devices, servicing heat pumps, etc.  CHOA’s advice is that consent of an Owner should be obtained before entering a Strata Lot in non-emergency circumstances.  Most Strata Corporation’s have some version of a bylaw that allows the Strata to conduct routine inspections upon 48 hours notice however, the real question is whether or not such a Bylaw would conflict with an Owner’s potential desire to protect themselves (or immunocompromised household members) from the risk associated with having strangers in their suite conducting anything but the most urgent of services.  Like with fitness facilities, there is likely to be no one size fits all solution, and your PM can help you come up with plans for whatever inspection may be coming due- but do keep in mind that we are not a substitute for legal advice and this is an unprecedented situation with only basic guidance being provided by industry associations around social distancing, PPE, etc.  In their April 3rd bulletin, the Canadian Fire Alarm Association did note that though they are required to note an untested device as “inaccessible” there are provisions in the standards for these devices to be tested at least once every two years, which may relieve some of the pressure associated with some suites denying access this year.
    • BC State of Emergency – On June 10th, 2020, the Province extended the State of Emergency by another 2 weeks (at a minimum).  All orders, such as the Order in Council allowing Electronic Annual General Meetings, remain in effect.
    • WorksafeBC and Stratawest – We have developed our plans to ensure compliance with Worksafe BC and our own regulators.  In reality, most of the steps that they recommend for real estate brokerages such as ourselves were measures we implemented in early March, such as sending most of our workforce home to work in shifts and limit the number of individuals in the office.  We have installed plexiglass shields for some workers who are in close proximity to each other, and continued with staggered shifts/remote working to ensure appropriate social distancing.  We have arranged two large scale sanitizations of our office, and conduct regular cleaning.  In short, we are doing everything we can to ensure continuity of our services and are conducting some large-scale technological upgrades during this window so that if a second wave hits, we will be better prepared than we were back in March to weather the storm.

Thank you, as always, for taking the time to review this important update.