If you were thinking there’s nothing new to say about COVID-19 after 16 months, you’d be thinking wrong. Let’s cover a few of the current issues you should be aware of:
Business Restrictions Lifting
The state’s business restrictions will be lifted on 12:01 a.m. on Monday, May 31. This covers things like office occupancy limits, employee temperature screenings and event capacity limits, but not all limitations that might affect real estate (see more about that in the next section). The primary changes you’d notice in your business will be that office activities should be less restricted than they have been. Oh… and because restaurant and other indoor venues can open at full capacity, you can get back to overhearing other agents loudly talking on their cell phones at Starbucks.
Mask Order Not Changing
To summarize the existing mask order, fully vaccinated individuals are now no longer required to wear a mask in most settings, but those who are not fully vaccinated are still required to do so. As has previously been announced, this order will remain in place until 70% of adults in Pennsylvania have been fully vaccinated.
This means that Realtors® and their clients are still required to wear masks if they are not fully vaccinated – this rule does not change with the lifting of the other general business restrictions.
Further, businesses (and individuals) are always permitted to utilize stricter rules for their own property. For example, a broker could still require all agents and clients/customers wear masks in their office if they so choose. More importantly, sellers can require anyone who enters their property to wear masks regardless of vaccination status if they choose. Any Realtor® who allows a buyer to access property on terms other than those set by the listing broker has potentially violated the Code of Ethics (see Standards of Practice 3-9 and 1-16). Refusing to follow a showing instruction on masks could fall into that category.
Note that while the mask order requires businesses to take “reasonable steps” to comply, there is no specific language on what that entails. It would likely be “reasonable” for brokers to post signs and remind clients/customers of their obligation to wear masks if they are not vaccinated, without actually asking anyone to declare their vaccination status out loud. It would not be “reasonable” to hear a client brag about not being vaccinated, then allow them into a listed property without a mask when you know that it is not compliant.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Health announced on Thursday that the commonwealth’s mask order will be lifted by June 28 or when 70% of adults get their second dose of the vaccine, whichever comes first.
You’ve no doubt heard that Pennsylvania approved two constitutional amendments that shift certain responsibilities for emergency declarations to the legislature. And you may have heard that the legislature is taking the first steps towards a partial repeal of the existing orders. At the moment, there’s nothing in these proposals that changes anything for your business.
This is not a total repeal of the entire emergency declaration. The partial repeal mostly covers aspects of the order that have not been utilized in quite some time (business shutdowns, stay-at-home orders) or are not directly related to real estate (no-bid contracts, unemployment comp work requirements). The remainder of the declaration would remain in place until Oct. 1, under the terms of the resolution currently being debated.
The clearest impact for Realtors® is that it maintains the existing regulatory waiver allowing livestreamed education courses to be provided under the rules for in-person education instead of distance education. PAR has been in contact with the State Real Estate Commission for months urging them to draft regulations on this issue and have also been in contact with the legislature about potential legislative fixes if it becomes necessary.
PAR Guidance Evolving
PAR’s coronavirus resource page was first published on March 12, 2020. That’s 63 weeks, or 442 days ago – but who’s counting?
Throughout that time, we have continually evolved and updated the information provided to members as the rules and guidance changed from month to month, week to week and even day to day. And it is still changing. A few quick (and very direct) tips on using our resources:
- Please check the current version of the page before calling the PAR Legal Hotline to ask any question that starts with “Can we still…?” or “Do we still have to…?” If you remember seeing/hearing something awhile ago and it’s not on that page today, then whatever you’re thinking about probably no longer applies. For example, we still get “Can we hold open houses?” There’s nothing on the page that says you can’t hold open houses, so yes, you can.
- You can go ahead and tear up any versions of PAR’s suggested best practices document that was first published about a year ago (and revised several times since then). Since all industry-specific and general business restrictions have been lifted as of March 31, we no longer need to offer that level of guidance to members. There are only three best practices you need to keep in mind at the moment:
- Wear masks where you need to (see above).
- Respect the instructions/requests from other parties and brokers.
- Use common sense to keep it safe.