The arrival this past spring of an easily transmittable, frequently life-disrupting, and sometimes deadly virus profoundly impacted day-to-day activity for busy New Yorkers - including a certain socioeconomic bracket accustomed to the convenience of having all kinds of service professionals come to them, rather than the other way round. Suddenly, house cleaners, nannies, dog walkers, babysitters, and personal trainers were barred from entering the city’s co-op and condo buildings, and the residents who previously engaged those workers’ services had to either take up the slack themselves, or do without.
According to Stuart Halper, VP of Impact Management, a firm with offices in Manhattan, Queens, and several other locations, service professionals like the ones mentioned were not technically prohibited from working within individual apartments, even during the darkest days of NYC’s citywide shutdown. Rather, the near-universal decision to bar these types of workers was made by individual co-op and condo boards, and/or individual unit owners - and often by the workers themselves, who were justifiably fearful of putting themselves in harm’s way through so many potential points of exposure.
With the re-opening of commercial activity in New York State, and particularly in New York City, the former epicenter of the pandemic, these workers are beginning to return to their jobs in buildings where their free movement had previously been restricted. While most people on both sides of these transactional relationships are happy to get at least somewhat back to normal, there are still a lot of pending questions about how this all is going to work in both the short and long term - among them is the question of whether the return of service professionals poses any legal and liability issues for co-op and condo buildings.
According to Steven Sladkus, a partner with the Manhattan-based law firm of Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg & Atlas, “So long as the law permits nannies, maids, dog walkers, etc. to return to their jobs, I don’t see much of a legal risk to cooperatives or condominiums, as long as proper protocols remain in effect and are enforced. These measures should include requiring masks to be worn in all common areas of buildings, social distancing in common areas, and proper sign-in with doormen or the front desk.”
Sladkus adds that he also doesn’t see many risks to either individual owners or shareholders so long as proper protocols are maintained. “That said,” he says, “if for instance a domestic helper has a fever or other symptoms, and the apartment owner doesn’t ask him or her to leave immediately --- while wearing a mask themselves, I should add --- and someone in the building contracts COVID-19 and it can be traced to the helper, there could be an issue.”