On March 18, 2020, we sent notice to clients, business partners and friends of the firm advising that our firm was shifting to fully remote operations because of the growing COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, we had anticipated only being away from our offices for at most a few weeks. Now, one year later, our firm and many of our clients and business partners in the POA industry are still operating remotely. In the past year, what have we as an industry learned, how have we adapted and what changes might be ahead once we fully move to the “new normal” and the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us?
One of the biggest adaptations for the POA industry came in the way we all conduct our board and member meetings. Pre-pandemic, many associations had a routine of going to a common meeting place at a set time at different points throughout the year. But after the beginning of the pandemic, the only thing that has remained the same might be the time of the meeting because the place has almost certainly changed.
Thanks to an amendment to Sec. 209.0051 of the Texas Property Code after the 2019 Legislative Session that allowed for the use of virtual meetings, many POAs have shifted to using a virtual platform such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc. to conduct their meetings. These platforms provided associations with the ability to continue to conduct business while keeping an open line of communication to their members in the midst of the pandemic.
Throughout the process there have been growing pains in learning the platforms. It is safe to say we have all been told “you’re on mute” at least once when we are trying to talk, but overall, it has been a smooth transition. Many boards have stated their desire to continue with the virtual meetings going forward because of the increase in community participation and the ability to be able to join a meeting from any location.
At RMWBH, we are no strangers to the virtual meeting process. We have assisted many clients of the firm by hosting their meetings using Zoom. By the end of 2020, we hosted over 30 annual member meetings and countless other monthly and quarterly member meetings, town halls and educational webinars. As we continue into 2021, we expect these numbers to increase as associations continue to conduct their meetings virtually; Although, some changes may lie ahead for the way we conduct virtual annual member meetings.
Currently, the Texas Legislature is considering HB 1467. This bill, if passed, would amend Section 209.014(a) to state, “An annual meeting may be held by electronic or telephonic means provided that:
(1) each person in attendance at the meeting may hear and be heard by every other person at the meeting; and
(2) the notice of the meeting sent to members of the association includes instructions to access any communication method required to attend the meeting remotely.”
It remains to be seen if this bill will pass, and if it does, what impact that may have on the way associations conduct their annual member meetings.
Associations not only had to learn and adapt to new ways to conduct meetings in the last year, they have also had to adapt to new ways of using the community’s amenities. For the beginning weeks of the pandemic, associations kept their amenities closed because of the unknowns presented by COVID-19. As the weeks passed and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control changed, many associations were able to open their amenities in accordance with the rules put in place by the State. As we continue in to 2021, what can associations expect for their amenities?
Associations are encouraged to continue with their procedures from 2020. Regular cleaning and disinfecting should remain a top priority. If your association has a SAYOR (swim at your own risk) pool with no pool staff, hand sanitation stations and cleaning supplies should be made available to the patrons. Signage advising of the risks of contracting COVID-19 should be clearly posted throughout the pool facility. Associations should once again consider the use of pool monitors to check in patrons and monitor the number of patrons using the pool to ensure social distancing and occupation restrictions are followed. It is also suggested that associations require pool patrons to execute a waiver/release to use the facility.
As with pools, associations should continue to make regular cleaning and disinfecting a top priority for their gym and fitness facilities. Signage advising of the risks of contracting COVID-19 should be clearly posted throughout the gym facility. Equipment should be spaced six (6) feet apart (if possible) to maintain social distancing. If it is not possible, some pieces of equipment should be closed to maintain social distance. Hand sanitation and cleaning supplies should be made available to the patrons to clean before and after the use of the equipment. It is also suggested that associations require patrons to execute a waiver/release to use the facility.
As we continue into 2021, regular cleaning and disinfecting should be a top priority for all other association amenities. Signage advising of the risks of contracting COVID-19 should remain in place at all tennis and pickle ball courts, playgrounds and other high-use facilities. For high-rise complexes with elevators, any current restrictions the association has should remain in place.
The restrictions set forth by Governor Abbott have remained unchanged for the last several months and do not appear to be changing any further for the foreseeable future. For a full breakdown on the current restrictions, please read our “An Update on COVID-19 Restrictions” from our January 2021 newsletter.
If the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic were not enough, the recent hammering of Artic weather and resulting days’ long power and water outages has devastated many Texas communities. Our hearts go out to everyone who has been affected by the storm and are dealing with burst pipes and damaged homes.
Even with the risks COVID-19, the spirit of community shone brightly throughout that tough week. Neighbors were helping neighbors. Those with power provided others with a place to warm up. Association common areas were used to pass out water to those without ensuring the process of recovery could quickly begin for those with damage.
For associations that are dealing with damage to association common areas or amenities, the association should consult with legal counsel and their insurance provider on the best course of action to take before beginning repairs.
This last year has seen many changes come to all of our lives. Masks and social distancing have become the norm. Remote work and virtual meetings are how we now work and communicate. In that time, associations have been faced with many tough decisions along the way and they will likely be faced with many more in the weeks and months ahead. By working together as everyone has done over the last several weeks in the aftermath of the winter storm, within a year from now we will hopefully be able to gather once again and enjoy our lives, friends, family and communities to the fullest.