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8 December 20204 minute read

Practical Compliance

Q4 2020: Spotlight on real estate COVID-19 compliance

Welcome to the first issue of Practical Compliance, a publication by DLA Piper lawyers that focuses on helping clients navigate the ever-changing compliance landscape.  In this issue, we look at issues facing workplace, residential, and other real estate settings in light of health and safety restrictions arising from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.  As more is learned about COVID-19 and the science around it continues to develop, prudent businesses are regularly monitoring federal, state, local, and industry standards.

  • Enhancing HVAC systems to reduce the risks of COVID-19. COVID-19 is understood to be most easily transmitted through airborne exposure, so HVAC systems have become a central focus in reopening indoor spaces and enhancing safety.  Efficient ventilation and filtration can reduce the airborne concentration of the virus, lowering the risk of transmission through the air.  The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has issued guidance for improving the safety of commercial and residential buildings.  The guidance for commercial buildings (available here) focuses on evaluating HVAC systems regularly, confirming that filters are MERV 13 or better, and that building air is flushed.  The guidance for residential buildings (available here) focuses on improving air filtration and ventilation, operating exhaust fans and air purifiers, and creating isolated or protected spaces for family members who may have been exposed to coronavirus or those who are at high risk.  Additional updated guidance is being collected here.
  • Following CDC guidance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also released recommended steps to address safe reopening of office buildings (available here).  The CDC notes that many office buildings were shut down for long periods during 2020; as they are reopened, ventilation systems and water systems should be checked to ensure that disuse has not created problems with mold, leaded water, or other issues.  Standard practices for inspecting and maintaining such systems should be followed (HVAC maintenance standards are available here; water system maintenance guidance is available here).  The CDC also recommends regular communication with employees and others entering the building, to ensure that personnel are proactively helping to limit the potential spread of the virus and to quickly identify those who may have been exposed.
  • Safely using elevators and escalators. Elevators and escalators can present a heightened risk of virus transmission, given their enclosed and high-touch nature.  To reduce risk, building occupants may be encouraged to use the stairs; such stairways should be designated as “up” or “down” if possible.  Signs or floor markings can be posted to encourage social distancing and to minimize high-contact touch zones.  Frequent sanitization of elevators and escalators has become common practice for mitigating COVID-19 transmission and remains highly recommended.  Supplemental air ventilation or localized air treatment systems in elevator cars can enhance risk mitigation.
  • Holding safe meetings. Holding in-person meetings presents another risk in these times.  For much of 2020, many businesses have already been holding meetings telephonically or virtually to help stop COVID-19 transmission.  If an in-person meeting is necessary, precautions are recommended.  

    Prudent companies are establishing various protocols, including the following.  All personnel should be strongly encouraged, and perhaps even required, to wear face masks at all times when congregating for a meeting. During the meeting, discourage physical contact, such as hand shaking or hugging, and provide ample hand sanitizer at convenient locations.  If possible, open windows and doors to increase ventilation, and space participants safely around the room.  As part of the meeting, obtain the names and contact information of all participants to help facilitate contact tracing if an attendee later reports testing positive for the virus shortly after the meeting.

Learn more about the implications of these compliance issues by contacting Casey Sobhani, DLA Piper’s Head of Leasing in the US, or your DLA Piper relationship attorney.

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