It happens every winter. The Association is hit with yet another bad snowstorm. The snow removal crew arrives early and is attempting to clear the snow faster than it falls. Meanwhile a resident has decided to take his daily constitutional around the Association. The resident slips at the end of his driveway on a patch of ice and breaks his wrist during the fall. He sues the Association and is awarded significant damages. In addition to a snow assessment to cover the unpredicted snowfall, owners can now expect increased insurance premiums due to the slip-and-fall lawsuit.

This situation occurs frequently within associations.  However, an association can protect itself from this expense by passing a Tort Immunity Amendment. A Tort Immunity Amendment helps insulate an association from liability in a lawsuit filed by one of its members for a personal injury, such as a slip-and-fall claim.  Without this amendment in place, if an owner slips and falls on the association’s common property, the association often times is held liable for damages. This expense is then passed on to all owners through increased insurance premiums.

With a Tort Immunity Amendment in place, an owner’s ability to be successful in a lawsuit against the association is limited. It is important to note that this amendment does not grant the association complete immunity to act without the potential for liability.  The association may still be held responsible for any willful, wanton or grossly negligent act or failure to act.

With the winter months quickly approaching, it is imperative to review your association’s governing documents to ensure that the association and its members are protected against personal injury claims that frequently arise during this season and the resulting expenses. If an association does not yet have tort immunity, it can adopt an amendment to its bylaws providing for such immunity. By statue, at least 2/3 of the membership must vote to approve such an amendment.

In these tough economic times, it seems no association is immune to the burden of vacant units. While failure to pay assessments is the most obvious problem, vacant units can introduce a host of other problems from squatters to burst pipes. While there is no quick fix or magic formula to correct the scourge of vacant units, there are steps that every association can take to ease and even eliminate the financial and maintenance burden vacant units can create.

If the association is willing to rent units, often the best option is to contact the owner of a vacant unit to see if they would consider signing a quitclaim deed or a rental agreement. A quitclaim deed transfers ownership of the unit to the association, subject to any mortgage or other liens on the property. A quitclaim deed offers two enormous benefits. First, the association can rent the unit and begin recouping the arrears that have been accumulating. Second, the association can monitor and control the unit and ensure that it does not become a health and safety hazard in the community. A rental agreement provides the association with the authority to rent the unit on behalf of the landlord and collect the rents. It offers many of the same benefits as a quitclaim deed, but without the permanency of actually transferring ownership. In either case, the association should ensure that the unit is in rentable condition – or can be made rentable for a reasonable cost – prior to entering into any agreements.

In New Jersey, a mortgagee who takes possession of a unit is responsible for pay ongoing assessments throughout its possession. If a mortgagee has taken possession of a unit, the association can pursue the mortgagee directly for unpaid assessments. It is a fact sensitive inquiry as to when a mortgagee has taken possession. Whenever it appears that a mortgagee has become involved with a unit, it is best to contact the association’s attorney to determine what options the association may have.

Beyond collections, vacant units also can create nuisances and even health and safety hazards. N.J.S.A. 46:10B-51 requires foreclosing mortgagees to maintain vacant and abandoned properties. While the mortgagee does not have to keep a property in pristine condition, it is responsible to ensure that the property does not become a nuisance or violate any state or local code. If a vacant unit is in disrepair, the association can demand that the mortgagee make the necessary repairs and, if it fails to do so, notify code enforcement who should then force the mortgagee to make necessary repairs and perform necessary maintenance.

Lastly, with the temperature continuing to drop, associations may be forced to take some maintenance and repairs into their own hands. If a vacant property has not been winterized by the mortgagee, every association with attached units should hire a plumber to winterize any vacant units. Pursuant to the Condominium Act, N.J.S.A. 46:8B-15(b), an association has the right to enter a unit during reasonable houses “to perform emergency repairs necessary to prevent damage to common elements or to any other unit or units.” Therefore, the association may step in to winterize properties in order to prevent the extensive damage that can be caused by a burst pipe. The association can also bill back the costs of the repairs to the unit owner. While this may seem like an added cost to the association, the cost of winterization is minimal compared to the costs of repairing the area surrounding a burst pipe, not to mention the inconvenience to the surrounding units. This same logic can be applied to other unit owner responsibilities, like a broken window or door. Keeping vacant units secure is the best way to protect the entire association and to prevent much greater costs down the road.

While vacant units are never welcome, they can be controlled and even become income generating assets if the association is proactive.

Passing a leasing amendment is desirable because it helps to maintain the quality and character of the community.  A leasing amendment benefits a community in two main ways:

  1. By providing an association with a means of evicting nuisance tenants
  2. By enabling the association to collect rent directly from tenants when unit owners become delinquent.

A leasing amendment will also pay for itself in the time and money saved in these two scenarios.

Scenario 1: The Problem Tenant

Every association encounters problem tenants.  However, without a leasing amendment, many associations are limited in their ability to evict such tenants.  A leasing amendment provides an association with the authority to evict a nuisance tenant if the owner fails to do so in a timely manner.  Thus, a leasing amendment enables an association to quickly and effectively remove problem tenants from the community.  This not only saves time, it also maintains a pleasant community atmosphere which helps to attract and retain good unit owners and tenants.

Scenario 2: The Delinquent Unit Owner

Unit owners who fail to pay assessments have a huge effect on an association’s bottom line.  A leasing amendment permits an association to collect rent directly from a unit owner’s tenant when the unit owner becomes delinquent.  This is particularly beneficial to an association because the association can do so without taking on the duties of a landlord.  Instead, the owner remains responsible for all duties as landlord.  Once the association has collected enough rent from a tenant to satisfy the owner’s obligations, the owner simply resumes collecting the rent.

Without a leasing amendment, an association will usually be forced to file a complaint against the landlord, obtain a judgment and attempt to execute a rent levy. Compared to the automatic assignment of rents that can be implemented through a lease amendment, this is a long and expensive process.   A leasing amendment solves the collections problem when a tenant is paying rent in a delinquent unit.  Not only can the association avoid going to court, the association has automatic access to a source for collections.  The collections obtained based upon adopting a leasing amendment can easily pay for the amendment itself—usually with the first rent check collected.

Why Not Just Pass a Resolution instead of an Amendment?

An amendment to an association’s governing documents takes more time and effort than the board passing a resolution.  Why not pass a resolution to deal with the issues outlined above?  The simple answer is that while a resolution may be easier to pass in the short term, it can create enforcement challenges down the road.  In order to be able to enforce the same type of provisions outlined above with a resolution, every tenant would have to sign a lease rider permitting the association to collect rent directly.  This creates excess administrative work and takes up valuable time—if it can even be accomplished.

On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provides relief to taxpayers affected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The CARES Act is the third round of federal government aid related to COVID-19.

The bill authorizes emergency loans to distressed businesses, including air carriers, and suspends certain aviation excise taxes.

With respect to small businesses, the bill

  • establishes, and provides funding for, forgivable bridge loans; and
  • provides additional funding for grants and technical assistance.

The bill also provides funding for $1,200 tax rebates to individuals, with additional $500 payments per qualifying child. The rebate begins phasing out when incomes exceed $75,000 (or $150,000 for joint filers).

The bill establishes limits on requirements for employers to provide paid leave.

With respect to taxes, the bill

  • establishes special rules for certain tax-favored withdrawals from retirement plans;
  • delays due dates for employer payroll taxes and estimated tax payments for corporations; and
  • revises other provisions, including those related to losses, charitable deductions, and business interest.

With respect to health care, the bill

  • provides additional funding for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19;
  • limits liability for volunteer health care professionals;
  • prioritizes Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review of certain drugs;
  • allows emergency use of certain diagnostic tests that are not approved by the FDA;
  • expands health-insurance coverage for diagnostic testing and requires coverage for preventative services and vaccines;
  • revises other provisions, including those regarding the medical supply chain, the national stockpile, the health care workforce, the Healthy Start program, telehealth services, nutrition services, Medicare, and Medicaid.

With respect to education, the bill

  • temporarily suspends payments for federal student loans; and
  • otherwise revises provisions related to campus-based aid, supplemental educational-opportunity grants, federal work-study, subsidized loans, Pell grants, and foreign institutions.

The bill also authorizes the Department of the Treasury to temporarily guarantee money-market funds.

To read the full bill please click on the following link: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/748/text

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act) requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. The Department of Labor’s (Department) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) administers and enforces the new law’s paid leave requirements. These provisions will apply from April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020.

Generally, the Act provides that covered employers must provide to all employees:[2]

  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay where the employee is unable to work because the employee is quarantined (pursuant to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a health care provider), and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis; or
  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay because the employee is unable to work because of a bona fide need to care for an individual subject to quarantine (pursuant to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a health care provider), or care for a child (under 18 years of age) whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19, and/or the employee is experiencing a substantially similar condition as specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of the Treasury and Labor.

A covered employer must provide to employees that it has employed for at least 30 days:[3]

  • Up to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay where an employee is unable to work due to a bona fide need for leave to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.

Covered Employers: The paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave provisions of the FFCRA apply to certain public employers, and private employers with fewer than 500 employees.[4] Most employees of the federal government are covered by Title II of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which was not amended by this Act, and are therefore not covered by the expanded family and medical leave provisions of the FFCRA. However, federal employees covered by Title II of the Family and Medical Leave Act are covered by the paid sick leave provision.

Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may qualify for exemption from the requirement to provide leave due to school closings or child care unavailability if the leave requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.

Qualifying Reasons for Leave:

Under the FFCRA, an employee qualifies for paid sick time if the employee is unable to work (or unable to telework) due to a need for leave because the employee:

  1. is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
  2. has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19;
  3. is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
  4. is caring for an individual subject to an order described in (1) or self-quarantine as described in (2);
  5. is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19; or
  6. is experiencing any other substantially-similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of Labor and Treasury.

Under the FFCRA, an employee qualifies for expanded family leave if the employee is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19.

Duration of Leave:

For reasons (1)-(4) and (6): A full-time employee is eligible for up to 80 hours of leave, and a part-time employee is eligible for the number of hours of leave that the employee works on average over a two-week period.

For reason (5): A full-time employee is eligible for up to 12 weeks of leave at 40 hours a week, and a part-time employee is eligible for leave for the number of hours that the employee is normally scheduled to work over that period.

Calculation of Pay:[5]

For leave reasons (1), (2), or (3): employees taking leave shall be paid at either their regular rate or the applicable minimum wage, whichever is higher, up to $511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate (over a 2-week period).

For leave reasons (4) or (6): employees taking leave shall be paid at 2/3 their regular rate or 2/3 the applicable minimum wage, whichever is higher, up to $200 per day and $2,000 in the aggregate (over a 2-week period).

For leave reason (5): employees taking leave shall be paid at 2/3 their regular rate or 2/3 the applicable minimum wage, whichever is higher, up to $200 per day and $12,000 in the aggregate (over a 12-week period—two weeks of paid sick leave followed by up to 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave).[6]

Tax Credits: Covered employers qualify for dollar-for-dollar reimbursement through tax credits for all qualifying wages paid under the FFCRA. Qualifying wages are those paid to an employee who takes leave under the Act for a qualifying reason, up to the appropriate per diem and aggregate payment caps. Applicable tax credits also extend to amounts paid or incurred to maintain health insurance coverage. For more information, please see the Department of the Treasury’s website.

Employer Notice: Each covered employer must post in a conspicuous place on its premises a notice of FFCRA requirements.[7]

Prohibitions: Employers may not discharge, discipline, or otherwise discriminate against any employee who takes paid sick leave under the FFCRA and files a complaint or institutes a proceeding under or related to the FFCRA.

Penalties and Enforcement: Employers in violation of the first two weeks’ paid sick time or unlawful termination provisions of the FFCRA will be subject to the penalties and enforcement described in Sections 16 and 17 of the Fair Labor Standards Act. 29 U.S.C. 216; 217. Employers in violation of the provisions providing for up to an additional 10 weeks of paid leave to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) are subject to the enforcement provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act. The Department will observe a temporary period of non-enforcement for the first 30 days after the Act takes effect, so long as the employer has acted reasonably and in good faith to comply with the Act.  For purposes of this non-enforcement position, “good faith” exists when violations are remedied and the employee is made whole as soon as practicable by the employer, the violations were not willful, and the Department receives a written commitment from the employer to comply with the Act in the future.

 


[1] Wage and Hour Division does not administer this aspect of the law, but notes that every dollar of required paid leave (plus the cost of the employer’s health insurance premiums during leave) will be 100% covered by a dollar-for-dollar refundable tax credit available to the employer. For more information, please see the Department of the Treasury’s website.

[2] Employers of Health Care Providers or Emergency Responders may elect to exclude such employees from eligibility for the leave provided under the Act.

[3] Employers of Health Care Providers or Emergency Responders may elect to exclude such employees from eligibility for the leave provided under the Act.

[4] Certain provisions may not apply to certain employers with fewer than 50 employees. See Department FFCRA regulations (expected April 2020).

[5] Paid sick time provided under this Act does not carry over from one year to the next. Employees are not entitled to reimbursement for unused leave upon termination, resignation, retirement, or other separation from employment.

[6] An employee may elect to substitute any accrued vacation leave, personal leave, or medical or sick leave for the first two weeks of partial paid leave under this section.

[7] The Department has issued a model notice:

https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/WHD/posters/FFCRA_Poster_WH1422_Non-Federal.pdf

The U.S. Department of Labor has resources to help workers and employers prepare for the COVID-19 virus.  Visit their website for more information: https://www.dol.gov/coronavirus