What happens when condo neighbors test positive for coronavirus? Miami is finding out

Article Courtesy of  The Miami Herald

By Rebecca San Juan and Jane Wooldridge

Published March 27, 2020

At the Brickell Bay Club, the pool, tennis courts and barbecue area were closed Wednesday after an occupant in one of the condo’s 450 units tested positive, said condominium association president John Caron. The gym and children’s area at the complex, at 2333 Brickell Ave., were shut last week.

Tuesday, property manager Carol Pasch informed Brickell Bay occupants via email that a resident had tested positive for the disease and had been hospitalized since March 16. According to the email, others who had been in contact with the patient would self-quarantine for the following 14 days. Pasch urged residents to limit elevator occupancy to three people and urged them to practice social distancing.

Tens if not hundreds of thousands of condo and apartment dwellers will likely face similar situations. As of 2018, more than 92,000 people were living in downtown Miami, mostly in high-rises. That number is now likely closer to 100,000, say experts.

And as Miami’s population has increased and land values risen, more and more local residents have moved into high-rise apartments and condos in every part of South Florida, from Westchester to Doral, Hallandale to Miami Beach. Almost one-third of the total dwellings in Miami-Dade have 20 or more units, according to U.S. Census data.

Yet despite the increase in multifamily units in Miami and other urban centers around the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control has not issued specific guidelines for apartment or condo buildings. Colleges and universities, retirement centers, but not apartments or condos.

“There is no playbook,” said Cynthia McFarlane, vice president of the newly formed Brickell Alliance, which represents 15 buildings.

McFarlane, owner of Brickell-based condo repair service Honey Man, previously was condo association president for the Imperial at Brickell building, at 1627 Brickell Ave.

“The association can close any amenity, especially if there’s a health risk,” she said. What we are seeing more associations do is limit visitors and not allow nannies, maids, personal trainers or home improvements in units.”

Absent official guidelines, Miami’s Downtown Development Authority shared with homeowner associations a template used by one of its area building managers. Because it is not a regulatory agency, said a spokesman, any policies regarding communal living would have to come from the CDC or the Florida Department of Health.

What condo associations and rental managers may not be able to do is force residents to self-quarantine.

“That’s a little tricky,” said Alessandra Stivelman, a partner at the Hollywood-based law firm Eisinger Law. “Residents that tested positive for COVID-19 should self-quarantine. If they don’t self-quarantine, the condo association should inform authorities.”

Brickell Bay Club resident Jacqueline Coleman, a freelance journalist, thinks the building has handled the situation responsibly. Management has placed hand sanitizers around the building and restricted access to the front desk, so residents can’t crowd there. Delivery people aren’t allowed in the building.

Personally, she’s practicing social distancing. “I live with my boyfriend and we are staying in. We only go out to get groceries.”