Martial Who?: Can the Police Barge in your Condominium Building During a Declaration of a Public Health Emergency?

group of police on street
Photo by Tiziano Pedrini on Pexels.com

Property as an Extension of your Body

One’s property such as your private vehicle or your shelter is an extension of your body. Thus, all of these appendages are protected from trespass and unreasonable searches and seizures.

Highly sensational these past few days is news of local police forces barging in an ultra-upscale condominium complex. The police were brandishing their weapons, and “curtly” shouted at locals and foreigners alike who were violating quarantine protocols in the pool area. Pending full discovery of the facts, all of which still remain mere allegations. (News link here.)

Applicable Law in Play

Contrary to popular belief, it is not the Bayanihan to Heal as One (BAHO) law that is relevant to this current issue, rather, it is a lesser known law that comes to play: RA 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act of 2019.

RA 11332 says that it is unlawful for a person to be uncooperative in response to health events of public concern (quarantine due to COVID19). Question #1: were the condo unit owners uncooperative to the efforts of law enforcers during quarantine?

RA 11332 on the other hand also says that entities involved in conducting disease surveillance and response activities (law enforcers) shall respect, to the fullest extent possible, the basic rights of people while preserving public health and security. Question #2: were the law enforcers violative and OA (over acting) in implementing the law?

Condominium Buildings and Common Facilities

Condominium buildings, its common areas and facilities are a different breed compared to a regular house. In a house and lot, the property owner’s boundaries are well delineated and identified, in such a way that any trespass or violation is clear-cut. Everything after the sidewalk, curb, or street forms part of the owner’s property.

In a condominium building, only the dwelling unit and parking slots, if any, are exclusively owned. All other spaces such as the lobby, hallways, stairs, elevators, recreational facilities, etc. (common areas) are registered under a separate and distinct person- the condominium corporation. The members of the corporation are composed of all the unit owners of the entire building, and official acts are done through the Board of Directors.

What are Condominium Unit Owner’s Rights During Quarantine?

It’s clear that common areas are owned and controlled by the condominium corporation. Through a resolution of the Board of Directors, rules that regulate the use of common areas, such as swimming, sun bathing, strolling, exercising, etc. may validly be enacted by the Board. Absent any resolution to this effect however, means that unit owners may use these common areas as they please.

Thus, the police may not enter uninvited or without probable cause that a law is being violated. The condominium building, including the pool area for that matter, is considered private property.

If the police wishes to lawfully invoke RA 11332 and enter the condominium building’s premises, three requisites need to be present: (1) there is a Board Resolution prohibiting people from enjoying the pool area, (2) someone is breaking that rule, and (3) the condo management/residents sought the help of the police or information of which was validly acquired by the police. Otherwise, entering without a warrant is outright unlawful.

Since property rights to the common areas are enjoyed and exercised by the condominium corporation, discretion through its Board rests in allowing use or prohibition. Identical to the level of caution exercised by law enforcers in entering private homes, the police also needs to exercise the same amount of care and may not simply enter condominium buildings against the condominium corporation’s will.

 

Karl S. Borja is a Partner at Borja Salem Panis Baldonado and Associates. His practice includes real estate transactions, property law, and government regulatory compliance.

You may reach him at:

ksborja@bspba.law

6B Vernida I Condominium, 120 Amorsolo St. Legazpi Village, Makati City. Tel No. 02-847888395

 

 

 

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