55+ Communities Fight Insurance To Reopen

The Sonata Bay clubhouse is open but the pool was still closed. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

  OCEAN COUNTY – Age-restricted communities faced with the threat of COVID-related lawsuits just got a step closer to seeing things open up for them.

  Ocean County serves as home to more over 55 retirement developments than any other county in New Jersey. All require payment of homeowner association fees to access standard amenities, such as the clubhouse and pool.

  Many communities denied or restricted entry to their clubhouses and pools last summer. The concern wasn’t just the spread of COVID-19 – but the risk of liability exposure.

The Sonata Bay clubhouse is open. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

  Nearly a decade ago, insurance companies inserted pandemic exclusions in the policies they wrote for condominium associations and other similar developments. Simply put, this meant an insurance company could legally deny pandemic-related claims brought against the homeowners’ association.

  Residents responded in an uproar, saying it seemed impossible to prove where someone became sick. However, with the claim denial would also come the cost to defend against it. While the insurance company would pay for attorneys for other liability cases, homeowner associations would need to come up with retainers for legal representation against pandemic-related lawsuits.

  The New Jersey Senate recently passed S-3584, a bill that grants senior communities immunity from most COVID-19 related lawsuits. If the Assembly votes in favor of companion legislation, it’s then up to Governor Phil Murphy to sign the immunity bill into law.

  Homeowner associations have adapted a different approach from last summer to this one. Many aren’t waiting for finalization of the immunity bill to open up their pools and clubhouses.

Photo by Chris Lundy

  Andy Pignatelli is the president of the Pheasant Run Homeowners Association in Barnegat. He sees the declining pandemic numbers as encouraging. He’s also quite pleased that masks won’t be required outside any longer and social distancing unnecessary.

  “We had residents who want to use the pool or clubhouse sign a waiver,” explained Pignatelli. “They also were provided with a bracelet they need to wear when they first come in. We’re now planning to expand access to guests.”

  Heritage Bay, located a couple of miles down West Bay Avenue in Barnegat hasn’t opened up either their clubhouse or pool.

  “We are working on it and will be meeting to discuss things,” said Janice Mooney, who heads up the Heritage Bay Homeowners Association. “We don’t know what restrictions are at this point. We know we have to keep track of who goes inside for the Board of Health.”

  According to Mooney, there are problems with the community’s pool itself and need to be addressed separately by a pool service. She feels the clubhouse also needs to be sterilized before anyone can use it.

Pheasant Run in Barnegat is looking at expanding use of its facilities. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Sea Oaks, another age-restricted community in Little Egg Harbor, recently made changes to provide access to their facilities.

  “We had to sign a waiver for tort immunity,” shared John Arizzi, a Sea Oaks resident. “Everything is back open the way it was before. No guests are allowed and people who come in have to wear a bracelet to show they signed the waiver.”

  Greenbriar Oceanaire in Waretown offers its residents several amenities. They initially adapted the waiver system last year even for residents who wanted to play bocce ball. Soon thereafter, everything was shutdown.

Residents at Pheasant Run in Barnegat enjoy the pool. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  “When you sign the waiver, you get an orange plastic bracelet to wear that gives you admittance to the pool,” Greenbriar resident Rita Kopacz confirmed. “Right now, there are no longer restrictions after the waivers are signed. Guests will be welcomed next weekend and must also sign the waiver.”

  The new normal – as seniors join the rest of the world in their desire to return to the familiar.