OCEAN COUNTY, NJ – As residents of Ocean County’s retirement developments look to the upcoming summer months, many have what they consider a simple request. They want access to their associations’ clubhouses and pools.

Amid the pandemic last year, most over 55 communities shut down entrance to their clubhouses and pools. Many remained closed even after Governor Phil Murphy announced pools could re-open last June with certain conditions.

Management companies informed their residents that insurance companies would not cover COVID-19 claims brought against the homeowners’ association. A pandemic exclusion written into policies represented two separate types of exposure for community members. Homeowners could find themselves saddled with legal costs for defending claims, and potentially paying for damages.

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Senator Christopher Connors, Assemblyman Brian Rumpf, and Assemblywoman Gove, who represent New Jersey’s Ninth District took up the cause for their constituents last August.

The delegation introduced companion legislation, S-2822 and A-4565, seeking to establish immunity for age-restricted communities and youth sports leagues for any civil damages caused by COVID-19 exposure. The bills call for the immunity to be retroactive to March 19, 2020.

“The Majority Party Legislative Leadership, which controls the legislative agenda, has not posted the delegation’s legislation for a committee hearing since being introduced,” wrote the Ninth District team in a recent press release.

In a letter to Governor Phil Murphy, Connors, Rumpf, and Gove, referred to prior communications with the governor’s office. The delegation indicated that “detailed guidelines have been provided for various other establishments and activities, (and that the governor’s) Administration has been less than forthcoming and responsive with respect to guidelines for facilities located in age-restricted communities.”

“These facilities are currently permitted to operate following existing health and safety protocols,” responded Alyana Alfaro, Murphy’s press secretary when asked about the request.

As far as the two bills introduced, Alfaro replied that the “Governor’s office doesn’t comment on pending legislation.”

Age-restricted communities throughout Ocean County have adopted different approaches to the pending issues. Prime Management, which handles the Barnegat’s Pheasant Run over 55 community, sent out a letter to homeowners. It reminded residents that there is no insurance for COVID-19 related claims and that “even if the Association prevailed in a case, it would have to fund the defense out-of-pocket.”

The correspondence requested that residents contact their legislators in support of two bills for immunity. It also suggested that there is opposition to the immunity legislation by some NJ legislators.

“We intend to open our pool this summer,” said Andy Pignatelli, who serves as the President of the Pheasant Run Homeowners’ Association. “We plan to follow the rules set up by the state as far as operating pools during COVID-19.”

According to Pignatelli, residents who want to use the pool, will need to sign waivers and neither guests nor children will be permitted. Plans also include opening the community’s bocce ball court.

In Little Egg Harbor, Four Seasons at Sea Oaks members were asked to vote on an amendment to their by-laws to include a tort immunity clause. Some newer developments already have one in place, which excludes bodily injury claims unless they are caused by “willful, wanton or grossly negligent act of commission or omission.”

The by-law amendment failed – and would not have related to just COVID-19 related claims.

“Nothing is open here,” shared John Arizzi, who resides in Sea Oaks. “The Board of Trustees refused to open anything unless the tort immunity was approved.”

“We would have signed waivers specific to the pandemic,” Arizzi continued. “We were willing to sign them as a condition of use.”

Greenbriar Oceanaire in Waretown allows residents to come into their clubhouse to make front desk appointments. Homeowners can schedule time to use the gym within the facility, with limitations on capacity. The same holds true when it comes to the pool.  All residents must sign waivers.

Throughout Ocean County, and most likely other parts of the state, the issue remains troublesome to homeowners in age-restricted communities. For some, it comes down to a matter of money. They question the payment of HOA fees towards amenities that remain closed to them.

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