Tenants of a Florida apartment are reeling over their management company’s requirement that they show proof of having a COVID-19 vaccine before moving in or renewing their lease, reports The Washington Post. The policy also applies to building employees as a condition of keeping their jobs.
Recently, President Joe Biden mandated that all federal employees, federal contractors, and health care workers at Medicaid- and Medicare-funded facilities be vaccinated. However, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has publicly stated that getting vaccinated is a personal choice that should be left to individuals.
Where do these mandates leave homeowners associations and condominiums across the U.S.?
“There are no circumstances in which any board or condominium manager has the ability or the authority to mandate or ask for proof of vaccination or ask about vaccination status for any owner or resident, family member, guest, or contractor,” says Florida attorney Ellen Hirsch de Haan.
There is a marked difference between a commercial enterprise and a multifamily residential property, explains de Haan, an attorney with Wetherington Hamilton in Tampa and a fellow in CAI’s College of Community Association Lawyers (CCAL). A store or rental property can establish rules regarding the use of facilities. “Condominiums, on the other hand, are individually owned, single-family dwellings within a multifamily residential complex,” she says. “These are creatures of statute, and the law provides there will be a board of directors which acts on behalf of the condominium and the association.”
“Basically, the board has limited authority, and there is no authority that includes jurisdiction over a person’s health or medical choices,” adds de Haan.
It’s important to note that landlords have absolute control over their rental properties if they don’t violate fair housing laws. “As of this time, being vaccinated is not a constitutionally protected class. Therefore, it is not unlawful discrimination to require such proof before signing a lease or letting a person into their store,” she notes.
Florida’s situation is unusual because of DeSantis’ mandate that no one should be required to wear a face mask or get vaccinated. “Still, private businesses have a choice. It remains to be seen whether they will be allowed to enforce these requirements, which stray into private and personal health information,” says de Haan.
Across the country in California, Laurie Poole, a partner at Adams Stirling in San Diego and a CCAL fellow, addresses the other difficult issue, is that by requiring residents to be vaccinated, an association will then have to implement a system of verifying vaccination status—which can be a burdensome task. “There also is a concern about associations obtaining sensitive medical information from residents and keeping that information confidential,” she says.
Meanwhile, de Haan does not recommend a vaccine policy “as that would be extremely difficult to enforce, and in today’s environment could actually lead to physical confrontations.” She instead advises adopting a mask policy for common areas and placing hand sanitizer around those elements, as well as posting a notice at the entrance of the building or by the mailboxes reminding people to maintain social distance.
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